Epistolary novels can be hard to pull off: backstory and other details wouldn’t ordinarily be part of a letter. Kelly Kaur is aided in this in Letters to Singapore, her novel centered around a young university student who—paralleling the author’s own life—leaves home to study in Calgary, by setting the story in the mid-1980s, a pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone time when people actually still wrote letters. 

Tonlé Sap is one of Southeast Asia’s, if not one of the world’s, natural wonders. Between the dry and wet seasons, the lake expands almost six times in size to cover an area the size of Kuwait. The flows are so strong that the Tonlé Sap river actually reverses course, with water from the lake flowing into the Mekong river.

If any journalist has a claim to be the doyen of the international press corps in East Asia, it would be Philip Bowring. In this timely book, he turns his gaze on the Philippines, just now in the throes of an election for a replacement to the controversial Rodrigo Duterte. Any election can be consequential, but Bowring says this time around, there is “no escaping the need of the country to overcome seven decades of under-performance in social and economic spheres compared with almost all its east and southeast Asian neighbours.”

Tree Crime, Melody Kemp (Proverse, April 2022) Melody KEMP
Tree Crime, Melody Kemp (Proverse, April 2022)

Arun, a young Mekong upland girl, falls in love and fascination with the forest and all it contains. The murder of a ranger and a frightening epidemic set her against the unprincipled and greedy exploitation of the natural world. The story encourages understanding of the increasing dangers to the environment and to human life that selfish lack of respect for nature creates. Set in a village on the edge of the forest, Tree Crime seeks to portray village life and interactions from an insider’s point of view.

In Burmese Haze (a reference to George Orwell’s classic novel), former US official Erin Murphy gives a personalized history of the past fifteen years of Myanmar history, with particular focus on, if not always from the perspective of, US policy towards this often opaque Southeast Asian country. Murphy was herself in the thick of it, either supporting US policymakers or, for the last decade, in the private sector working to assist US-Myanmar trade and investment relations.

According to Cambodian lore, the ocean was once ruled by the king of the Naga empire. The Naga were an amphibious people who made their home between land and water. A prince discovered this underworld when he traveled to an island and met its princess on the shore. Naturally, they fell in love. After the prince proved his mettle, the king blessed their marriage by swallowing the ocean, revealing the land below. “The land born of water was Cambodia,” writes journalist Abby Seiff in her new book, Troubling the Water: A Dying Lake and a Vanishing World in Cambodia.

People from Bloomington is, true to its name, a collection of stories about various people in the American Midwest—in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana to be precise—set in the late 1970s. As examples of the craft of short story writing, these will do nicely: each is well-constructed and plotted, with distinctive characterization and more than enough tension to get the reader through to the end.