Reviewed by Pallavi Narayan
This fresh collection of short stories by Southeast Asian writers, set in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore, opens with a young girl in Manila who spontaneously erupts into flames. This sets the tone for the stories that follow, some of which are even more fantastical, encapsulating speculative fiction, science fiction, snippets from contemporary urban landscapes and possible ominous futures. All the stories play with the motif of heat in its various manifestations—its literality and its associations with frantic cities, crowded streets, busy street sides, spicy food, family warmth, raging passions, burning forests and fevered fancies that the tropical climate of the region generates.
In their introduction, Khairani Barokka and Ng Yi-Sheng describe the collection as sketching what may be seen as a more conceptual than corporeal vision of Southeast Asia. Part of a trio of Southeast Asian urban anthologies—the other two are titled FLESH and TRASH—HEAT, as is mentioned on the first page, “interpret[s] urban as a state of mind.” It comes as no surprise, then, that while the stories plunge straight into the plot, they do not devote the greatest attention to physical descriptions of the city. But the way a city or landscape is drawn out is commendable, and is more than present enough to justify the book’s title and, in some instances, is rendered vividly, as are the interior worlds of the characters. The writers use a variety of modes of narration, which is in itself a declaration of a region coming of age.