Southeast Asian fiction is as varied and unique as the people that live in the region, and I find myself going back to those stories and mythology more often now that I’m part of the diaspora. These speculative fiction titles are great entry points into the ways Southeast Asian writers have explored the cultures they grew up in, and the fantastical possibilities within.
Malaysian Tales: Retold & Remixed by Daphne Lee
I had never read a Malaysian short story before discovering this collection, but I loved getting to know Malaysia through the eyes of these writers. They play around with story structure as well as myths and legends, and Daphne Lee’s own story “Endless Night” quickly became one of my favourite pieces. The anthology can serve as an excellent introduction to the Malaysian culture and perspective for readers who may not be as familiar with these stories as they are with Western legends.
Buy. A wide range of short story subjects means every reader will be able to find something to enjoy.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
The people and history of Southeast Asia are certainly not a monolith, and Choo’s novel is a look at the Chinese people who lived in the Malay region during the British colonial era. Add in a paranormal twist, and you’ve got a novel that not only explores the role of women during this historical period, but the navigation of culture and tradition and duty when life and death are at stake. Heavy stuff to be sure, but Choo works with a clear familiarity with these cultural influences.
Borrow. Horror might not appeal to some readers, but reading this book during the daylight might help. Maybe.
Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Labodalih Sembiring
Indonesia comes to life in Kurniawan’s newest novel, as two families in a small village wrestle with their own intimate traumas in a story reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism. The country’s mythology also occupies a role in Kurniawan’s exploration of family and societal connections: a young girl may or may not be half-white tiger, leaning into the Indonesian belief that tigers are guardians of villages and families.
Buy. This book is a wonderful introduction to the familial ties that are entwined around Indonesian culture, and to the storytelling techniques of its people.