RoutledgeThe Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English

By Rajeev S. Patke and Philip Holden

Routledge, 272 pp

It can be argued that Southeast Asian Writing in English has not achieved as much attention as African Writing in English or Indian Writing in English, even though English as a language reached most parts of the world wave after wave as a result of colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila have been major outposts under British and American colonialism, but the output in English from these big Asian cities has not made much impact on the global literary landscape, the same way that writings from India or Africa have. Where is Southeast Asia’s answer to Midnight Children or a House for Mr. Biswas or Things Fall Apart?

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HertaGerman novelist Herta Müller, who received death threats in her native Romania after she refused to become an informant for the secret police during Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime, has become only the 12th woman in 108 years to win the Nobel prize for literature.

Praised by the Nobel judges for depicting the “landscape of the dispossessed” with “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose”, Müller returns constantly to the oppression, dictatorship and exile of her own life in her novels, essays and poems.

In a statement this afternoon Müller said she was “delighted” by the award, and “still couldn’t believe it”.

In other rooms, other wonders_edIn Other Rooms, Other Wonders

By Daniyal Mueenuddin
Bloomsbury, 237 pages

My first brush with Pakistani writer Daniyal Mueenuddin’s material was in the pages of the New Yorker. I don’t remember the exact year but I had noticed the title of the story (Nawabdin Electrician) and the author’s name—not a very common feature in the noted American weekly. I was not going to miss it.

I remember reading the story and not being very impressed by it. I think I read it off the web, maybe after downloading the story and printing it out. I must have read it on the go—I admit that’s not a very good way of reading stories but that’s how I read books. We all live hurried lives. Anyway, I had decided that it was not a good story and after reading it, I had forgotten about it.

Suhayl_smallSuhayl Saadi was born in Yorkshire in 1961 of Afghan-Pakistani parents, and grew up in Glasgow, becoming a medical doctor. He is a widely published novelist, dramatist and poet, and the author of a short story collection, The Burning Mirror (2001), shortlisted for the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award. His radio and stage plays include The Dark Island, broadcast on Radio 4 in 2004, Saame Sita (2003), The White Cliffs (2004), and The Garden of the Fourteenth Moon (2006).

He has written articles and essays for several national newspapers, and song lyrics for classical and folk-rock combos. He has co-edited three anthologies, and is co-director of an arts production company, Heer Productions Ltd., which established the Pakistani Film, Media and Arts Festival in the UK. (Suhayl Saadi above, photo by Basharat Khan)

‘Kaaba’

Zuleikha glanced both ways. It were as though she were commencing a Muslim prayer, a namaaz, which back in the cold rain of Glasgow, would have been normal, routine, even, but which here, in this assertively Roman Catholic country, seemed almost blasphemous. She tried to conjure up the face of her son, Daoud, but could not. She sprang up, tried to breathe. Zuleikha was a scientist, not a penitent.

As soon as she emerged into the room, she realized that the structure down which she had been descending was neither a well nor a tower, but an enormous chimney whose upper portion had been removed and on whose hearth she had been standing. She brushed her clothes down as well as she could. She was in a small, low-ceiling’d room whose walls seemed to have been whitewashed fairly recently.

crastaAmong the bunch of famous Indian novelists and writers, Richard Crasta‘s name might not be as widely recognized as that of a Seth or a Rushdie, but few would come close to him in being funny, witty, satirical and daring–all at the same time. If you don’t believe me, I can get American legendary novelist Kurt Vonnegut to  vouch for him who found his first novel, The Revised Kama Sutra, “very funny”.  After Khushwant Singh (who is 90 plus old but still active as a below the belt heavy hitter), if any Indian writer has pushed the boundaries of satirical writing, with dollops of sexual humour (and satirical writing on a lot of other serious stuff) in his own distinctive style, it’s Richard. But, in fairness, his writing is more than that, and multifaceted, covering areas as wide as, in his own words, “autobiography, humor, satire, political critique, sexual critique, and literary criticism.”

by Zafar Anjum

Between the assassinationsBetween the Assassinations
by Aravind Adiga
Picador, 2009

When I finished reading the last story from Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assassinations, I was briefly filled with sadness. This was the book I was reading for the past several weeks. I had been dipping in and out of Kittur, sharing the anger and sorrows, hopes and joys of its various inhabitants. Adiga’s imaginary town and its curious inhabitants had kept me enthralled for days on end. I read the book whenever time (and my daughter) allowed me to enter its world: on the way to office, during lunch break, watching over my daughter in the playground or before going to bed.

by Suhayl Saadi

SuhaylIn the early 1990s, when I began to write fiction, charting the confluence between realism and mysticism, I’d been reading widely for a number of years and had joined a writers’ group, but apart from occasional performances in bars and arts centres, I’d had no connection with published writers or the wider arts world.

The furore attending the publication, in 1988, of Salman Rushdie’s novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’ had more to do with metahistory, geopolitics and the social class demographics of migration into Britain than it did with either theology or fiction, while the only other visible ‘British Asian’ writer in the UK was the talented realist writer, Hanif Kureishi. Culturally illiterate, all-white commissioning editors in London seemed hungry for more Rushdie, for subaltern neo-Orientalism and the textual affirmation of colonial dominance.

by Zafar Anjum

I had interviewed Malaysian novelist, Tan Twan Eng, sometime ago for India Se. I am reproducing the full interview here for your reading pleasure. Hope you enjoy reading it.

Tan Twan Eng-The Garden of Evening MistsYou are a lawyer by profession. How did you decide to become a writer? Were you inspired by some other writers or you genuinely felt that you had something to express?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I began reading children’s books at the age of four or five, without realising how difficult it is to write. But as I grew older I became aware that it’s almost impossible to make a living from it, and so I decided to read Law when the time came to choose a career. I don’t regret it, because it’s given me an awareness of the importance of writing with clarity, and it’s made me a more disciplined writer. As I used to be an intellectual property lawyer, it’s also been useful whenever I have to read the publisher’s contracts.