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In honour of World Book Day our editors across the regions have selected their all-time favourite titles by Asian authors

World Book Day 2022 is April 23, and it’s the perfect excuse (as if we needed one) to curl up with a nice read.

As a team full of bibliophiles, Tatler editors reflect on their favourite books written by Asian authors. From lengthy epics such as Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy to timeless classics like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, our selection is as diverse as it is personal. 

1. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve long been a fan of the British author Kazuo Ishiguro’s bittersweet slow-burn reads, and his latest novel was a treat. Told through the eyes of a solar-powered “Artificial Friend”—Klara, the titular protagonist—Klara and the Sun has a fable-like quality to it, through the character’s astute observations and yet child-like worldview. It tracks Klara’s experiences of being selected as a companion for a sickly child, and explores what it means to love, presenting a possible future scenario that is both evocative and quietly heart-wrenching.

– Hong Xinying, Regional Managing Editor, Tatler Homes

2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

At approximately 1,500 pages, A Suitable Boy may seem daunting at first. But once you embark alongside young protagonist Lata on her journey through 1950s India as her mother desperately attempts to marry her off to a “suitable boy”, you will want to see it through, and find out who she chooses as her husband. 

From the nostalgic glamour of Calcutta’s high society life to the devastating post-partition inter-religious violence, Seth addresses multiple aspects of India’s delicate and complex newly acquired independence through the intertwined lives of four large, interconnected families. Although set in a historical context, the emotions experienced, and values held are timeless, and conveyed through characters who are complex, relatable, and entertaining. 

What most strongly resonates with me is how Seth—through Lata and the myriad rich characters—amplifies the power of choice and of ownership of choices made in intense and challenging circumstances. In doing so, he shows the possibility of agency in seemingly impossible circumstances, leaving you feeling unexpectedly empowered.

– Aaina Bhargava, Arts & Culture Editor, Tatler Asia 

 

3. Po-on by F. Sionil José

National Artist for Literature and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Francisco Sionil José’s Po-on (international English title: Dusk) is the last of his Rosales saga novels. The story is set in 1884 and follows the Samson family’s late great-grandfather’s childhood and young adult life. Albeit written as a prequel, it comes full circle with the plight of Filipinos in the 20th century. The saga begins during the last days of the Spanish colonisers in the country and the Philippine-American war. Exploring themes of spirituality and patriotism, Po-on contrasts the saga’s pilot novel The Pretenders as it celebrates idealism and the revolutionary spirit youth in times of war.

José’s mastery of words and storytelling, his romantic prose, and resounding call to consciousness and awareness of socio-political and historical issues of the nation are just some of the reasons why I believe this finale is the best of his epic opus.

Although it is a microscopic look at society at a particular time, it could be a topic of debate for historians and Catholic conservatives. Nevertheless, the story of the Samsons and the plight of the peasants of Rosales, Pangasinan, allowed José to convey his message of continuous search for justice and moral order. Through Po-on and the rest of the Rosales saga, he showed how vital it is to know our own histories, and to learn from them to improve the lives of future generations.

Franz Sorilla IV, Arts & Culture Editor of Tatler Philippines

 

4. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

As a second-generation Malaysian Chinese born to immigrant grandparents, reading master storyteller Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club gave me glimpses of my roots, a history untold, and lots of feelings. The Joy Luck Club centerrs on four mothers united in shared unspeakable loss and hope, and their four coming-of-age daughters’ interconnected web of stories, in the form of short vignettes.

As each woman’s story is told, reminiscing the good and bad old days, secrets and truths are revealed, and soul-stirring emotions are unpacked. The novel also explores patriarchal characteristics of Chinese culture and traditional family life, finding middle ground in rocky mother-daughter relationships, and ultimately, self-discovery and self-preservation in hardship.

Beautifully written by Tan, The Joy Luck Club will leave you recognising your privileges and feeling grateful and appreciative for what you have, and make you want to hug your parents and/or your grandparents a little tighter.

Lainey Loh, Digital Director of Tatler Malaysia

5. The XMAS Files by Stephen Law

This little book is a collection of short essays, each one tackling a philosophical question inspired by the Christmas season, my favourite time of the year. Do we actually have ulterior motives when choosing and giving presents? Is it more in keeping with the Christmas spirit to be honest or to lie when we receive a gift we have no use for? Is Christmastime commercialism really such a bad thing? Philosopher Stephen Law breaks down some of the big moral questions out there and makes them relatable. digestible, and most importantly, fun.

– Jacqueline Tsang, Tatler Asia Editorial Director & Editor-in-Chief, Hong Kong

6. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Set in Penang during the second world war, this is a tragic story about the inevitable cruelness of war where no one—no matter which side you are on—comes away untouched. While I tend to shy away from such dark premises, this is written in such a way that it cleverly disguises a forbidden love story in its midst, although I had my suspicions halfway through.

The final chapters are some of the most moving, gut-wrenching pages I’ve ever read; the words haunted me long after I had shut the book. This is Tan’s debut novel and while his follow-up, The Gardens of the Evening Mist, won the Man Asian Literary Prize and was even shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, I’m of the opinion that this is the better one.

Brian Cheong, Digital Editor of Tatler Malaysia

7. Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Effortlessly blending cinematic prose with intricate world-building, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound is a must-read for anyone who dreams of becoming a writer or simply loves a darn good story. The Indonesian author skilfully pulls the reader in through the main character Dewi Ayu, a prostitute who wakes from the dead two decades after her passing.

A mix of magical realism, violence, sardonic humour, and captivating character arcs, Kurniawan proves that all the tricks are here. Beauty is a Wound will leave one inspired about the deep joy reading (and writing) may bring. Each page seamlessly flows to the next and a few late nights (and a bit of sleep deprivation) later, suddenly, the harrowing tale is over.

Get to know Indonesia’s colourful and tragic history through Kurniawan’s eyes—a grotesque yet endearing portrait you just can’t help but be in awe of—much like Dewi Ayu herself.

Dorynna Untivero, Digital Director of Tatler Philippines

 

8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a deeply moving story that has stayed with me for the longest time. A work of fiction steeped in reality, it follows the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, over three decades against the backdrop of political instability in Afghanistan. At times a difficult read, Hosseini explores the place of a woman in Afghan society and is unflinching in his depiction of war, domestic violence and oppression under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001. But there are beautiful, albeit poignant, moments where we see glimpses of light despite the loss and suffering these women have endured.

Almost 20 years after it was first published, A Thousand Splendid Suns remains a powerful reminder of the real experiences of people behind news headlines and soundbites, arguably more impactful in 2022 as we read about recent bans on education and travel imposed on Afghan women.  

Zue Wei Leong, Digital Writer of Tatler Malaysia

 

9. The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers weaves a narrative spanning years and continents: a young man now known as Daniel Wilkinson attempts to reconcile the life given to him by well-meaning (but condescending and ultimately harmful) white adoptive parents with that of his childhood, when he was Deming Guo, before his mainland Chinese mother disappeared. The novel examines displacement and new beginnings, motherhood, ignorance and belonging with gut-wrenching clarity. It tells a story familiar to many migrant families, and shines a light on the injustice of immigration systems, the unbreakably heartbreaking bond between a mother and child, and the mire that is third-culture kid life–yet while it could be desperate, this is ultimately a tale of hope.

– Karly Cox, Regional Managing Editor, Print, Tatler Asia

10. Breaking the Tongue by Vyvyane Loh

The Asian-authored book that has stayed in my mind and heart the longest is Breaking the Tongue by Vyvyane Loh. Set in Singapore, the novel follows a Chinese family watching Singapore fall to the Japanese during the second world war. There is Claude, a man raised to be more British than Singaporean; his father, Humphrey, whose Anglophilia blinds him to the world; and their family who are slowly watching the horrors of war unfold. This coming-of-age novel deftly deals with race and class, all while exploring how language shapes perceptions. It’s something that you can’t read just once; I’ve  gone through these pages multiple times and I always find new meaning.

Camillia Dass, Digital Writer, Tatler Singapore

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