Book Stories


Asian women writers gain a wider audience thanks to translations of their work crowdfunded by a British publisher

Oct 11, 2020 / Deviant Disciples
“Women do write. They carry multiple burdens, but they still endeavour to create,” says Faye Cura, co-founder of Gantala Press, a Filipino feminist literary collective and small press that publishes books and other publications documenting the conditions and struggles of women. “We know of a farmer who writes poems in her little notebook while waiting for people to buy vegetables in her stall,” she explains. “We know of a union leader who composed poems in her cell, after being wrongfully arrested for organising a workers’ strike. We know of a migrant woman worker who writes poems and essays after a hard day at the factory, and has even won literary awards for her writings. I think what publishers can do is to actively seek these works and publish them.” One such publishers is the non-profit, British-based Tilted Axis Press, which was founded in 2015 and focuses mainly on translated work by Asian writers .

Southeast Asian Women’s Fiction: 5 Short Reads

Oct 05, 2020 / Apple and Knife
Southeast Asian literature has not garnered as much attention as its neighboring counterparts. And yet, the worlds and characters crafted by Southeast Asian writers form a rich and subtly critical scene that begs to be discovered. Women writers, in particular, have much to do with enriching this region’s literary landscape. I have curated a list of 5 short Southeast Asian novels by women for a quick read. For those who wish to explore Southeast Asian women’s fiction, start here.

Kalis Mardiasih’s bold, moderate Islamic interpretation of ‘hijrah’

Sep 15, 2020 / Hijrah Jangan Jauh-Jauh, Nanti Nyasar!
Born and raised as a Muslim in Indonesia, I can’t help but notice the increasing popularity of the hijrah (migration) movement, especially among the young generation of Muslims in Indonesia. The transformation of young people from cultural Muslims into more devout ones has become more visible in recent years. From fashion to food, property to relationships, this hijrah trend has begun to dominate the mainstream narrative in Islamic society. One local brand even claims to offer the first halal certified hijab in Indonesia, which has made me question my own hijab collection. Is it not halal?

Leila S. Chudori’s novel The Sea Speaks His Name goes in search of missing Indonesian student activists

Aug 24, 2020 / The Sea Speaks His Name
In the two years after his disappearance, the family of kidnapped student activist Biru Laut continue to lay his place at the table every Sunday. They play the record of his favourite song, Blackbird by The Beatles, and wait for him to come home. Laut may be the fictional protagonist of Indonesian writer Leila S. Chudori's novel The Sea Speaks His Name, but what his family goes through is based on the real-life accounts of those whose children vanished into political detention in the 1990s, during the last days of President Suharto's regime. Chudori, 57, won the South-east Asia Write Award for this novel, which was published in 2017 in Indonesian as Laut Bercerita.

Laksmi Pamuntjak reflects on ‘Fall Baby’, her time in self-quarantine

Aug 23, 2020 / Fall Baby
Like many other people during self-quarantine, award-winning Indonesian novelist, poet and essayist Laksmi Pamuntjak went through different stages. In the first two months, she found it difficult to write anything other than emails and messages to friends asking how they were. “You’d think it is the most natural thing, to counter the loneliness and isolation with exterioration, to manifest all our fears and uncertainty in paper and ink. You’d think they would come pouring out of you,” she said in an email interview. But in reality, she did not write anything down, much less write about her feelings, thinking that everybody’s story seemed more pertinent than her own.

Laksmi Pamuntjak’s ‘Fall Baby’ named best literary work at Singapore Book Awards 2020

Aug 17, 2020 / Fall Baby
A novel by Indonesian author Laksmi Pamuntjak, Fall Baby, has been named "best literary work" at the 2020 Singapore Book Awards (SBA). Organized by the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA), SBA is an industry award for books published in the country. The sixth edition of SBA, which was held virtually on Thursday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, recognized 10 categories, including Literary Work, Book Cover Design, Education Title, Illustrated Non-Fiction Title and Nonfiction Title.

Heritage food book The Way Of Kueh takes home top prize at Singapore Book Awards

Aug 13, 2020 / Fall Baby
Kueh led the way at the Singapore Book Awards on Thursday (Aug 13), as Christopher Tan's heritage food book The Way Of Kueh won Book of the Year at the annual industry awards by the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA). The awards recognise the best in local book publishing. Best Literary Work went to Fall Baby by Indonesian writer Laksmi Pamuntjak, a novel about a controversial artist who discovers that her birth father died a political prisoner. It was published locally by Penguin Random House South-east Asia.

Locarno 2020: Introduction to the Open Doors Hub projects

Aug 06, 2020 / Jalan Tak Ada Ujung
Locarno’s Open Doors enters year two of its deep dive into the independent cinema scenes of Southeast Asia and Mongolia. Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval and Indonesian director Mouly Surya will be among some 30 participants in the 18th edition of Locarno’s Open Doors, supporting independent cinema in the global south and east. The programme continues its three-year exploration of the Southeast Asian territories of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam as well as Mongolia in East Asia, which began in 2019. This second year will run online August 6-11 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but its key elements remain intact.

Book Ambassadors: What our envoys abroad are reading this summer

Aug 04, 2020 / Beauty Is A Wound
As we stay in Ireland, our diplomats recommend books to bring the world to you. INDONESIA Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan (2002) Kurniawan is Indonesia’s modern literary star, although he is little known outside this country. Beauty is a Wound was written nearly 20 years ago but translated into English only in 2015. The novel follows the fortunes of the prostitute Dewi Ayu and her community during the formative years of the Indonesian state. The author’s use of the supernatural and nods towards traditional folk practices, as well as pulp and dark humour, make it a very enjoyable, if sometimes disturbing, read, which also feels uniquely Indonesian. At its heart, however, it is really a story about the violent legacy of colonialism, occupation and intra communal conflict in Indonesia, all of which continue to shape the modern, complex Indonesia. — Olivia Leslie, Ambassador, Jakarta

It’s your Turn to (Re)Write the Story

Aug 03, 2020 / The Wandering
You wake up disoriented. You’re in a New York City taxi, speeding toward JFK airport. In your hand is a one-way ticket to Berlin. But you look down and find you’re missing a shoe—only one foot is ensconced in a precious, ruby-red slipper. They were a gift from an infatuated devil—your Demon Lover, as you refer to him—in a far-off metropolis, one with the sounds of the call to prayer, motorbike traffic, and meatball vendors echoing across skyscrapers. Your deal with the devil allowed you to travel freely but without purpose around the world, carried away from home by the curse of these scarlet high heels. Going back to Jakarta is not an option. But you, dear reader, do have three choices: Will you ask the cab driver to turn around and take you back home, to the New York apartment about which you recall nothing? Will you focus on your lost valuables and file a report with the authorities? Or will you continue onward, a hobbling heroine unfazed by a bit of imbalance, and get on that plane to your next destination?