This year Singapore celebrates its bicentennial, or rather, the 200th anniversary of the founding of the colonial city. Because of this milestone, there has been considerable soul-searching about the role of history in creating a people and WW2 naturally comes to mind. The war was not only one of the most traumatic episodes in the city’s history, but it was also one that catalyzed the unraveling of empire resulting in both independence and the trajectory it took.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Jewish cartoonists brought the term “graphic novel” to the mainstream. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God tells the story of poor Jewish immigrants in New York tenements while Art Spiegelman’s Maus depicts two storylines that center around the Holocaust. These books address heavy subjects and differ from the lighter fare in comic books, which are usually thinner, magazine-like publications. The term graphic novel has come to refer to non-fiction, not just fiction.
The cover of Somewhere Only We Know, Maurene Goo’s latest young adult novel, isn’t inordinately different from other contemporary romantic comedies: a young Asian woman is seated while a young Asian man leans into her back, only part of his face and an arm are visible. Yet the story is unusually set almost completely in Hong Kong while the protagonist, Lucky, is an equally unlikely American-born internationally renowned teenage K-Pop star who isn’t a household name in the United States—yet.
Relatively little had been written about Indonesia during World War II and the conflict between the Dutch and Japanese in the Pacific. In her recent memoir, All Ships Follow Me, Mieke Eerkens starts with the complexity of her father’s upbringing in colonial Indonesia. The son of a Dutch family that had lived in what was then called the Dutch East Indies for three generations, Eerkens’ father spent his first ten years living a life of privilege in Java.
When novelist Sonali Dev recently launched her new novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, she mentioned at her release party that it is one of a handful of Jane Austen rewrites with South Asian characters. It doesn’t take much to work out that Dev’s book is a take on Pride and Prejudice, and other authors like Soniah Kamal and Uzma Jalaluddin have also written their own takes on Pride and Prejudice while Debeshi Goopta has a new novel inspired by Persuasion.
A war correspondent and overseas bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, Megan K Stack never had much occasion to concern herself with gender equality even when she married another foreign correspondent and the two moved to Beijing a decade ago. But their marital dynamics changed when Stack became pregnant. She quit her job and stayed home with the baby; her husband Tom became the sole breadwinner and continued to jet off to remote parts of China and other countries on assignment.
When psychedelic rock music came to Southeast Asia via American GIs during the Vietnam War, it greatly influenced the music scene in Cambodia. Cambodian Rock Band, a new play running in Chicago through May 12 celebrates this resulting music that not only abruptly went away in 1975, but for the most part hasn’t been performed since then. Playwright Lauren Yee centers her story around the interaction of fictional band called The Cyclos with the very real person who directed the terror of the Tuol Sleng torture center, a former school that was converted in a prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Only seven people survived Tuol Sleng.