National Reading Movement

Novels from Southeast Asia

We’re used to reading books about America and Britain. But what about stories from the region closer to home? Know more about Southeast Asia through these books!

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

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Samarasan’s first novel immerses us in 1980s Malaysia. The story centres around the prosperous Rajasekrharan family. Heading the family is Raju, a rich Indian lawyer who is married to his unhappy wife, Vasanthi. Their oldest daughter escapes to America for university; leaving them with their son Suresh, and six-year-old daughter Aasha.

Moving seamlessly between the past and present, this book slowly peels away the family’s closely guarded secrets: the mysterious dismissal of the family’s servant girl and the death of Aasha’s grandmother, who passed away before the start of the novel.

The book offers an unapologetic look at familial relationships, the rich and the poor citizens of post-colonial Malaysia, and a thrilling examination of the developing nation. Borrow it here.

 

Lieutenant Kurosawa’s Errand Boy by Warran Kalasegaran

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This book by local author Warran Kalasegaran is a remarkable and intricate story spanning a few decades and centres on a few characters.

An eight-year-old Tamil boy is separated from his father during the Japanese Occupation. He is forced to work for the Kempeitai as a dock worker and renamed Nanban. He learns the Japanese language and its customs from Japanese Lieutenant Kurosawa, studies their martial arts and prays to their Emperor.

20 years later, a young misfit Papatti, who strives to be a successful seamstress, meets a cunning politician and an eager dock worker. Both of them try to win her affection. She is then faced with a harrowing loss, and is forced to find a place in a new world.

The lives of Nanban, Papatti and Lieutenant Kurosawa intertwine in shocking and powerful ways, which begs the question: in the face of war and heartbreak, which character is truly able to reconcile and heal their emotional wounds?

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Read it here.

 

Sing to the Dawn by Minfong Ho

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Sing to the Dawn is written by Singaporean-Chinese-American author Minfong Ho, who was born in Myanmar and raised in Thailand.

It is about Dawan, a Thai village girl who wins a scholarship to study in a city school. This was not good news to her brother, Kwai, who places second. As jealousy gets the better of him, it causes a rift between the previously close siblings. This is exacerbated by their father, who believes that the city and further schooling is no place for a girl. If Dawan gave up her scholarship, her brother could take her place.

She has to overcome obstacles at every turn and prove to her family that she is fully capable of living independently in the city and has the same right to education as her brother. Her journey of determination and ambition is one that is important for her and readers.

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Borrow it here.

 

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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It is 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. A general of the South Vietnamese army, with the help of his trusted captain, is deciding who would be the final few to leave on the last flights out of Vietnam. The group of chosen soldiers then depart for Los Angeles to start afresh, but unknown to them, the captain who helped pick them is secretly observing and reporting their actions to a higher up in the North Vietnamese army.

The book is about this captain who is torn between two identities. He is born to an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, and studied in America before going back to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause – the narrator’s duality of caste, education and loyalties drive much of this gripping and refreshing examination of the Vietnam war.

Read this bestselling novel and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction here.