It may seem like a familiar fairy tale. A step-mother, two step-siblings, and a girl who isn’t glamorous. But instead of Prince Charming or a fairy godmother, the object of the girl’s interest is a ghost. Western ghosts (pace Casper, who had to be explicitly labelled “friendly”) are usually malevolent in some way; two new books—one from Danish writer HS Norup, who spent four years in Singapore, and the other from Malaysian writer Hanna Alkaf—feature Asian ghosts who are decidedly more sympathetic.
Well, what can one say? The guy can write. Joshua Kam’s How the Man in Green Saved Pahang, and Possibly the World is quite the debut, accomplished, deft, unabashed and exuberant.
Surrealism is something of an outlier in mainstream English fiction, yet it seems to crop up with some frequency in contemporary Chinese-language literature, at least in those works that find themselves in English-translation. This penchant for surrealism can seem even more pronounced, or perhaps concentrated, in the wider Chinese world and diaspora: Dorothy Tse, Hon Lai-Chu and Dung Kai-Cheung in Hong Kong and Malaysia’s Ng Kim Chew being among the practitioners. The surrealism central to this newly-translated collection by Ho Sok Fong fits right in.
In a welcome development for new voices and regional literature, Penguin Southeast Asia began publishing in Singapore in May. Among its first titles are two collections of short stories, The Heartsick Diaspora by Elaine Chiew, and Cursed and Other Stories by Noelle Q De Jesus.
A pious canine argues with a camel, a windy night lasts for years, and a Javanese keris blade is wielded to murder a village witch in Fairoz Ahmad’s enchanting short story collection Interpreter of Winds. A quick and charming read, this book includes four magical tales across Islamic communities in the Indonesian and Malay world. Some take place in a stylized colonial past and some in the contemporary world, where current struggles crash against the fantastical.
Various degrees of financial precariousness and a vibrant—yet maddingly hot and humid—Malaysia are the theme and setting of Tash Aw’s newest novel We, The Survivors. Through the main character Ah Hock, an ethnically Hokkien Chinese Malaysian, a tantalizing story of broken family life that crisscrosses both the megacity of Kuala Lumpur and the tropical provinces and crashes violently into the country’s often callous use of “dark-skinned and foreign” migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal.
Dark secrets in the steamy jungle of British colonial Malaya are the subject of this engrossing retelling of William Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Force of Circumstance.