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.
Retired Captain Pao Yang was a Hmong airman trained by the US Air Force and CIA to fly T-28D aircraft for the US Secret War in Laos. However, his plane was shot down during a mission in June 1972. Yang survived, but enemy forces captured him and sent him to a POW camp in northeastern Laos. He remained imprisoned for four years after the United States withdrew from Vietnam because he fought on the American side of the war.
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.
The refugee is conventionally considered a powerless figure, eagerly cast aside by both migrant and host communities. In his book, The Refugee Aesthetic, Timothy August investigates how and why a number of Southeast Asian American artists and writers have recently embraced the figure of the refugee as a particularly transformative position.
What do you do with a gang of monks who have been condemned to death for immorality? If you are King Rama II of Siam (1809-24), you commute their sentences to hard labor, which consists of making them cut grass for your elephants every day. This is one example of the sometimes quirky humanity of the Chakri Dynasty, which, as royal houses go, is a relative newcomer, having been founded only in 1784.
Run Me to Earth opens in war-torn Laos in 1969. Three teens—Alisak, his friend Prany and Prany’s younger sister, Noi—freelance in a ruined French villa now serving as a makeshift hospital. They care for each other, ride motorcycles through obstacle courses of unexploded ordnance, and are looked after by, and look after, Vang, a young doctor who finds his own refuge in an abandoned piano and alcohol.
A rare and precious glimpse of pre-Khmer Rouge literature, Suon Sorin’s recently translated novel is set during Norodom Sihanouk’s Cambodia. Originally published in 1961, it harks back to the late colonial and post-colonial eras.