Book review by Tan Kaiyi

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With the rise of the Asian Century, the global community typically shines its spotlight on the economic progress of the region. Much is made of the advancing wealth of nations like India, China, Singapore and Vietnam. But while the economic progress is an easy unifying narrative that could be woven through the different countries, equally important — but much more challenging — is charting the breadth and depth of the Asian literary imagination.

The Best Asian Short Stories 2019 is up to the monumental task. The editor of the anthology, award-winning author Hisham Bustani, highlights the main obstacle to the endeavour when assembling the collection:

“…there is no such thing as a well-defined, self-contained, concrete, unified Asian identity…”

He explains the issue by contrasting it with Europe. While similar to Asia with a geography that contains multiple language and cultures, the region “claims a unique identity and set of ‘European values’ that separate it from others…” This consequently gives a literary landscape in the region a halo of universalism. Whether it is true at heart or not is certainly up for debate, as Bustani rightly points out that some communities like Turkey are isolated from the Eurocentric ideological bloc.

The Seoul International Book Fair, started in 1954, claims to be the biggest event of its kind in Korea with participation of forty countries and 430 publishers, including Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, USA, Egypt and Indonesia. The guest of honor this year, at its twenty-fifth anniversary, was from Hungary.  

Hungarian Ambassador to Korea Mozes Csoma said in his opening speech: “Back in 1892, the Austro-Hungarian Empire already signed a treaty of amity with the Joseon Dynasty. Hungarian scholar Barathosi Balogh Benedek traveled the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century, and he hoped Hungarians would get to know more about Korea and Korean culture. Now I have a similar hope with his. I hope more Koreans get to know Hungarian culture and its literature.”

naguib-mahfouzThe quotation “Events at home, at work, in the street- these are the bases for a story” was said by the famous Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz.  Mahfouz is a well-known Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 1988 for Arabic literature. His works are considered to be a revolution in the world of literary works. His writings are very symbolic and his novels are a pure representation of the Egyptian society. He is the father of Arabic literature.