The Publishing Post
Writing the World: Stories from Home
By Madhu Manivannan, Jia Wen Ho, Leanne Francis and Shaniah Shields
As part of The Publishing Post’s 50th issue, we’re sharing something more personal by writing about our favourite books by authors with whom we share a cultural background. Spanning across Malaysia, Barbados, Jamaica, South Africa and Sri Lanka, we hope you’ll find something you enjoy!
A Passage North by Anuk Anudpragasam
Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, this is no doubt a novel that many of you will have heard of. A Passage North follows Krishan, a young Sri Lankan Tamil man, as he journeys to northern Sri Lanka after a tragedy befalls his family. On his train journey, he reflects on two pivotal experiences: the Sri Lankan Civil War and his short-lived but passionate relationship with a student activist. Told entirely without dialogue, Krishan’s reflections meander between love, violence, death and passion. Arudpragasam’s unflinching prose powerfully reflects the sense of grief, numbness and futility that linger in the aftermath of the war.
When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
Although initially taken in by a mutual interest in liberatory activism, a young woman finds out that her university professor husband’s progressive politics are merely a facade. While it is horrifying in its frank descriptions of domestic violence, When I Hit You also celebrates resistance and freedom. Drawn from her own experiences, Meena Kandasamy, a Tamil author from Chennai, reflects on perceptions of gender and reputation in Indian society. In particular, her observations of the insidious ways in which women’s issues can be sidelined or swept aside altogether within leftist communities are incisive.
The Island of Forgetting by Jasmine Sealy
This compelling debut explores four generations of one family who run a beachfront hotel. Set in Barbados, firstly in 1962 we follow lost soul Iapetus, then his stoic son Atlas, Atlas’s daughter, Calypso, who struggles to find her place in society and finally, her son Nautilus who grapples with his identity. Loosely inspired by Greek mythology, this is a powerful novel about family and hope. This hauntingly beautiful family saga portrays the impact of trauma on family and its ability to transcend generations.
How To Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
This thrilling, lyrical debut short story collection which is set in Jamaica and America, follows the lives of Jamaican immigrants and their families. It perfectly captures Jamaican life, culture, history and folklore in an electrifying way. There is an immediacy to the writing which enables the complex emotions within the stories to thrive. The collection includes the story Bad Behaviour for which the author won the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize.
Buckingham Palace, District Six by Richard Rive
This emotional and historical novel takes place between 1955 and 1970. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, District Six is a close community of people of colour, all united by their working-class background and political status. Richard Rive intimately captures the daily lives of these intriguing characters as they experience moments of triumph and defeat, before being forcibly removed from their homes. Published in 1986, this is a heart-wrenching tribute to the people of District Six and a reminder to not let history repeat itself.
Triangulum by Masande Ntshanga
A recipient of the PEN International New Voices Award, Masande Ntshanga is the author of Triangulum, an afrofuturistic novel which spans forty years, beginning with the collapse of Apartheid in the 1990s and arriving in the year 2040. Published by Penguin in 2019, Triangulum follows a seventeen year-old girl who receives a package claiming the world will end in ten years. On her way towards finding the truth, she is drawn into a world of espionage and shadowy corporations. This coming of age novel blends history and sci-fi with an important message from the future.
Jia Wen’s picks
Poems from Malaysian Poetry Writing Month,
Every April, which is the national month of poetry, a community of poets in Malaysia gathers on Facebook to inspire one another to write poetry. A prompt is given daily, and poetry is shared on the platform. Some of these poems are published on the website for Malaysian Poetry Writing Month. I really related to these poems, especially the usage of local slang and familiar imagery. Some of my favourites are the 21st c. guide to a happy household by Kristine Lee and Bunian Laundry by May Chong.
The Girl and Her Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
When a powerful, mighty and magical pelesit, a dark spirit, finds his new master, a chatty six-year old Suraya. The first thing he receives, which he does with much reluctance, is a new name, Pink, Suraya’s favourite colour. Having a shadow of a dark spirit bound to her, Suraya is disliked by people around her. Pink becomes her guardian from all her misadventures and her only friend. I loved that this book was set in a kampung (village) and filled with Malaysian culture. Both humorous and dark, the book explores toxic family relationships, loneliness and jealousy.