Adoniram Judson was the 19th-century version of an American celebrity. Americans flocked to listen to his tales of being one of the first missionaries to enter the Kingdom of Burma. Americans wanted to hear of his mission in the Buddhist kingdom; Judson was reportedly uncomfortable with the attention.
In a story in Agnes Chew’s impressive debut collection, Eternal Summer of My Homeland, a Singaporean woman named Nadine gets to know a German man and speaks to him about love, mortality, and philosophy. Mortality seems to be a theme throughout the collection of stories about regular people in Singapore. There’s nothing Crazy Rich about them, which perhaps is why they place so much thought on the decisions they make.
From 1975 to 1979, while Cambodia was ruled by the brutal Communist Party of Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime, torture, starvation, rape, and forced labor contributed to the death of at least a fifth of the country’s population. Despite the severity of these abuses, civil war and international interference prevented investigation until 2004, when protracted negotiations between the Cambodian government and the United Nations resulted in the establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), or Khmer Rouge tribunal. The resulting trials have been well scrutinized, with many scholars seeking to weigh the results of the tribunal against the extent of the offenses.
In the opening story of Saras Manickam’s collection, My Mother Pattu, a sixteen year-old Tamil girl named Meena is sent from her home in Penang, Malaysia to live with an aunt and uncle in Mambang, an inland town halfway to Kuala Lumpur. Her crime: writing and receiving letters from a boy at school. This story, “Number One, Mambang Lane”, sets the tone for the collection with colorful Malaysian settings and characters that exemplify Malaysia’s diverse cultures, racial issues and all.
The impact of missionaries around the world has been widely condemned by anthropologists, historians and medical professionals. They have been accused of suppressing indigenous languages, religious and social practice, disrupting countries’ social fabrics and prohibiting contraception. Moreover, missionaries were, on the whole, stalwart defenders of European colonialism. However, that does not mean they are unworthy of nuanced academic study, indeed given the immense socio-political and religious change they have fostered, academic engagement is crucial to understanding the outcomes of their activity.
Despite a slow drip of new writers, Filipino fiction remains relatively thin on the ground, at least from publishers with wide distribution, and at least when compared to writers from such other countries in the region as Japan and Korea. With his debut novel Forgiving Imelda Marcos, Nathan Go joins a club which, while small, contains some illustrious members.
Half a year on from the publication of India: A History in Objects, the British Museum and Thames & Hudson have released a new volume of the same vibrant format on Southeast Asia, an endeavor at least as ambitious as that for the Subcontinent: “it is hardly possible to be comprehensive,” as Alexandra Green modestly admits in her introduction.