Martin Alexander (editor) Asia Literary Review 24, [Northern] Summer 2012
[Added in 2021: Most of the links in the blog post are broken, but the title above and the image to the left will get you there. The whole issue is available online to subscribers.]
I subscribed to the Asia Literary Review in 2009 for worthy motives: they had published a short story by my niece Edwina Shaw, and I wanted to support a publication that had faith in her; it also seemed a relatively painless way to ensure some cultural diversity in my reading. I’ve kept on renewing my subscription because every issue has something to delight – from a photo essay on Karen exiles living on the Thai–Burmese border to a splendidly simple pasta sauce recipe. The current issue doesn’t disappoint.
Martin Alexander’s editorial announces that this journal is organised around the theme of identity. The contributors, he writes,
reflect, and reflect upon, the multiplicity and complexity of their identities. Each piece was composed in isolation, but when brought and bound together their explorations of identity complement one another in unanticipated and intriguing ways.
I would add: in laugh out loud ways, and weird ways, and ways that make you want to weep. Many of the pieces are about dislocation – through migration, exile or invasion. Many are about the experience of being mixed-heritage. There’s a fascinating, kaleidoscopic effect as voices from China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Japan, India, Thailand, South Korea, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the UK, the USA and Australia, Uyghur, Hawai’ian and Burmese voices, echo one another’s motifs, answer one another’s questions and question one another’s answers.
My precious blogging time is being taken up with doggerel endeavours these days, so I’ll limit myself to mentioning, pretty much at random, just a few highlights.
Kavita Bhanot’s ‘Too Asian, Not Asian Enough‘ asks if it isn’t a new form of Orientalism for so-called British Asians to simplify their identities and perform them rather than striving to understand and reveal their own complexities. The journal’s imprint page reveals that Madhvi Ramani’s short story ‘Windows‘ is taken from an anthology edited by Kavita Bhanot with the same name as her article. Ramani’s story illustrates beautifully the kind of thing Bhanot is advocating: it starts out with Mrs Sharma, close to the stereotype of the elderly, widowed Indian living in Britain, locked out of her home, and ends in a completely unexpected place.
In Win Lyovarin’s Rainbow Days, the Bangkok Reds and Yellows demonstrations are seen, to wonderful satirical effect, from the point of view of a barely legal Burmese street merchant. This is one of a number of pieces translated into English, in this case from Thai by Marcel Barang. Kim Jae Young’s ‘Elephant‘, translated from Korean by Moon-ok Lee and Nicholas Yohan Duvernay, is another: an impoverished and desperate little community of immigrants is seen through the eyes of a young boy, son of a Nepalese man and a Korean mother who has abandoned them.
There’s an interview with Donald Keene, pre-eminent expert on Japanese literature, who in his late 80s, not long after the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident last year, decided to leave the United States and become a Japanese citizen.
I’ve always thought that Chinese criticism of the Party and bureaucracy was inevitably an earnest affair. Jimmy Qi’s ‘Yu Li: Confessions of an Elevator Operator‘ (translated by Harvey Thomlinson, whose Hong Kong based Make-Do Press has a novel by Jimmy Qi in the pipeline) demonstrates definitively that this just isn’t so. At one level this story is a completely serious satire, but at another it’s an immensely enjoyable piece of silliness.
I plan to keep my subscription up.