Art of course is often more than just art. When the National Opera of Ukraine reopened in May, defying the thud of artillery and wail of air-raid sirens, it was a political and social statement as much as an artistic one. Less dramatically, public performances of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong have for decades contributed to the formation and perpetuation of a local identity.  

Memoirs and biographies of prisoners of war during World War II are not uncommon, but accounts of women POWs remain relatively rare. In Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra: Faith, Hope and Survival, Barbara Coombes tells the story of two British women who were captured by the Japanese military after they tried to leave Singapore by boat a couple months after the city came under attack. They were sent to POW camps on Sumatra. Coombes’s book almost reads like a first-hand account because she includes many pieces of poetry, letters, and sketches from the two women she portrays. 

Norman Erikson Pasaribu is an Indonesian poet whose debut collection Sergius Mencari Bacchus won the 2015 Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Competition. It was translated as Sergius Seeks Bacchus by Tiffany Tsao. Pasaribu’s recent collection of short stories, Cerita-Cerita Bahagia Hampir Seluruhnya, has also been translated by Tiffany Tsao, under the title Happy Stories, Mostly. The collection was longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize.

This political biography of the current Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, explains why his style is so successful and what his major undertakings as president have been. The stated aim of Jokowi and the New Indonesia by Darmawan Prasodjo with assistance from Tim Hannigan, is to give a full picture of the man and his presidency in English. The book is based on an Indonesian language version, but has been extended to give context to readers not familiar with Indonesia’s past.

Sapphire Promise: Based on a true story of loyalty, trust, and unfailing love, Sally Brandle (May 2021)
Sapphire Promise: Based on a true story of loyalty, trust, and unfailing love, Sally Brandle (Copper Horse Publishing, May 2021)

Loyalty to family. Trusting instincts. The will to survive. These virtues are deeply embedded in a mature Dutch teenager, Annika Wolter. Her attributes prove useful as she navigates typical coming-of-age insecurities and a blossoming romance with a handsome lieutenant in 1939 Batavia, Java.

In children’s literature and in young adult fiction, food is often used to bridge cultures—“dumplings are the great social equaliser” says the protagonist in the YA novel The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling as an example. And while food might be one of the easier entries into a culture, there are other ways too. Art, for example, which Singapore’s National Gallery does with success in its “Awesome Art” series. 

Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages: Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River, Ian Burnet  (Alfred Street Press, April 2021)
Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages: Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River, Ian Burnet (Alfred Street Press, April 2021)

Joseph Conrad’s favored destination was Asia, the bustling transit port of Singapore, the remote islands and ports of the Dutch East Indies. It was from Singapore that he made four voyages as first mate on the steamship Vidar to a small trading post which was forty miles up a river on the east coast of Borneo. A river and a settlement which he described as “One of the last, forgotten, unknown places on earth”. His Borneo books—Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, The Rescue and the latter part of Lord Jim—were all based on the places he visited, the stories he heard, and the people he met during these voyages.