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.
A round-up of reviews of fiction and short story collections in translation from Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia and eight different South Asian languages, classical and modern.
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.
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.
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.