On 2 September 1945, on the US battleship Missouri, US General Douglas MacArthur concluded the formal surrender ceremony of the Pacific War by stating: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.” When the guns of the Second World War fell silent in Asia, peace did not return to the peoples of East and Southeast Asia. Instead, as Ronald Spector details in his meticulous and informative military history of the postwar Far East, the region “erupted” as a result of decolonization, civil wars, and the broader Cold War. The region became a vast “bloodlands” in which nearly four million combatants and probably close to 20 million civilians died. 

Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)
Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)

High in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar once knew no boundaries, lives a rich multiplicity of traditional peoples. Prominent among them are the Karen, Hmong, Iu Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu, six distinct groups who have maintained their independence, identity, and worldview to a high degree.

The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan. 

At the start of Sandeep Ray’s debut novel, A Flutter in the Colony, a young woman named Maloti is approaching George Town by ship as she and her young family arrive in Malaya to start anew. Maloti’s husband, a Mr Sengupta who goes only by “the young man” in the story, has found a job working in a rubber plantation and has left Calcutta behind. As the title suggests, the story takes place during British colonial times, but perhaps the word “flutter” should be changed to the plural since the setting is in both in pre-Partition Calcutta and pre-independence Malaya.

The World War II fighting on Mindanao, the southernmost and second-largest island of the Philippine archipelago, rarely gets mentioned in conventional histories of the Pacific War, even in those histories that focus on the battles in the Philippines. Still less do those histories recount the heroic struggle of the Moro resistance fighters who conducted a costly insurgency against the conquering armies of Imperial Japan from 1942 to 1945. Thomas McKenna, an anthropologist who lived and worked in Moro communities on Mindanao, tells the story of one of the unsung heroes of the resistance, Mohammad Adil, in his new and groundbreaking book Moro Warrior

Chariot of the Sun, disingenuously subtitled “An Informal History of a Siamese Family”, stands out from the recent plethora of  run-of-the-mill or self-serving memoirs and biographies by very much being neither.  Here we can meet an utterly fascinating variety of people, a number of whom occupied positions of power, but also some who didn’t, and they’re all revealed through what Nic Dunlop tells us on the back cover, “storytelling that revels in the fragmentary and the anecdotal.” This is a different kind of memoir; the main “character” isn’t so much the writer himself, but a selection of family members evocatively presented through stories and photographs that are linked by a narrative about an ancient prophecy (no spoiling here!). Bunnag begins with the 2011 earthquake and ends with a tree (the name Bunnag means “tree”) and a placenta, hopping backwards and forwards in time as he goes, employing full use of his skills as a documentary film-maker.