For almost two decades, Sharmilla Ganesan has kept her finger on the pulse on Southeast Asia's thriving arts and culture scene as much as its economy and politics. In fact, the presenter at Malaysia's only independent radio station BFM 89.9 has even contributed to the region's literary development. She led The Star newspaper's column for book updates and reviews and has penned several short stories featured in Malaysian anthologies including Endings & Beginnings, The Principal Girl, and KL Noir: Magic.
"Books are shared stories, a window into other worlds, a way to experience life in another's shoes," she says. "Words and stories are powerful—whether they teach us, scare us, comfort us, or make us laugh, books make us a part of a larger story."
Ganesan believes that there is much to learn from this year's theme for International Women's Day, 'Breaking the Bias'.
"As a reader, it means making a conscious choice and effort to not only read more works by women, but by women of diverse backgrounds and experiences," she says.
"So much of the literary world has been shaped by men's writing, and Western perspectives. So going beyond that can feel daunting, and even uncomfortable. But to me, learning to read differently, and to see how much richer literature can be when we make space for the writing of all kinds of women, is something every reader can do."
She shares her hopes that fellow readers will join her on her own journey of breaking the bias by reading more Southeast Asian literature, including translated works: "To be honest, I've only just begun to explore the immense variety of writing available in our region, but I've found it so exciting and enriching to read works from Southeast Asia—familiar in some ways, wholly new in others."
Below, Ganesan recommends and reviews her favourite books by Southeast Asian women.