Literature tends to be defined by language and place. For instance, Japanese literature is written in Japanese, or translated into another language, and written by Japanese authors. Chinese literature is however a little more complex because writers may also hail from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. In most of these places, citizens—a significant minority if not the vast majority—speak, read, and write Chinese. In the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, ethnically-Chinese writers may also read and write in English. But Malaysia is a case apart. Despite the Chinese being a minority that speak a variety of languages and dialects, there has been a robust Chinese literary tradition from Malaysia for almost a century. Cheow Thia Chan’s new book, Malaysian Crossings: Place and Language in the Worlding of Modern Chinese Literature, discusses the history and complexities of Mahua, or Malaysian Chinese literature, to show how it has developed and endures stronger than ever today.  

When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country. 

On 2 September 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States, ending the Second World War. Yet the Japanese invasion had upended the old geopolitical structures of European empires, leaving old imperial powers on the decline and new groups calling for independence on the rise. That unsteady situation sparked a decade of conflict: in Indonesia, in Vietnam, in China and in Korea, as esteemed military historian Professor Ronald Spector writes about in his latest book, A Continent Erupts: Decolonization, Civil War, and Massacre in Postwar Asia, 1945–1955.

The two novellas in Shivani Sivagurunathan’s What Has Happened to Harry Pillai? take place on the fictional Coal Island in Malaysia, a setting she has used previously in a couple of other books going back a decade. Much lurks under the surface of this seemingly idyllic locale. In this latest book, each novella takes on the theme of loneliness and reinvention.