I subscribed to the Asia Literary Review as an act of avuncular solidarity – I wanted a hard copy of issue 14, (northern) Winter 2009, which features ‘Broken’, a story by my niece Edwina Shaw. Having now read two issues, I’m a fan.
Asia, of course, covers a vast proportion of the Earth, from the Philippines in the east to the Arabian Peninsula in the west. The Asia (not ‘Asian’) Literary Review is a vast tent open to contributions from all of it and beyond. It’s an English-language journal, founded by Nury Vittachi in 1999, and currently edited by Chris Wood. It publishes work by writers and visual artists from Asian cultures in translation and originally in English, work by expat and former expat Westerners (like my niece), not all from English-speaking countries, work by Westerners who have engaged with Asia in other ways (there’s an extract from Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing in Nº 14), contributions from various Asian diasporas. There are interviews, both original and transcribed from The Book Show, and a wealth of illustration.
In Issue 15, just arrived in my letterbox this week, Hanif Kureishi (one of the interviewees) is quoted on racism:
It really is about language. It’s very traumatic to exist in a world of other people’s descriptions. Your own words have no force.
If he’s right, then the sheer multiplicity of voices here must be profoundly anti-racist. In Issue 14, ‘Noe’s Jiuta-mai’, a photo-essay by Bangkok based Xavier Comas on a traditional Japanese dance form, is followed by ‘Nova Initia’, Thomas Lee’s first person narrative about a Korean man in the US learning about his father’s past, which in turn is followed by ‘Phallacy’, a laddish sonnet by England born Daljit Nagra (How oft do mates bang on at length about / how well they’re hung …). Issue 14 interviews Gao Xingjian, three times exiled from China for his writing and now living in France:
The writer is a weak individual and cannot overcome political oppression; he can only flee, or he has to write for the government. […] Dante fled Florence because he couldn’t write. Ibsen fled Norway; it wasn’t until Norway began to recognise him that he went back.
In Issue 15, dissident writer Liao Yiwu’s memoir ‘Go South, Go Further South’ concludes:
I had survived prison, while others had died within its walls. And I had survived a devastating earthquake while so many others perished. And hundreds of people are arrested or shot crossing the border. I don’t have a single reason to complain.
I accept my fate, which is to stay, and write.
Heroism has many faces. So does Asia. You get to meet a lot of them in this journal.
And in case I haven’t said it before, Edwina’s story can hold its head up in that multifaceted and exalted company.