Summer Reading 2020
Book Recommendations by Members, Speakers and Asia Society Global Staff
Like every other half year we asked for favourite books and received recommendations from colleagues, speakers and friends. The following ten books keep you busy throughout the summer, whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction.
Thanks to all contributors for the great recommendations!
Contest for the Indo-Pacific by Rory Medcalf (2020) [non-fiction]
Rory Medcalf was one of the first analysts to embrace the idea of a single strategic zone running from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the U.S. as a replacement for the once prevailing idea of the Asia-Pacific. The great debate about the Indo-Pacific is whether it has simply been contrived by those frustrated and fearful of China’s rise to provide reassurance or whether there is a compelling and practical alternative to China-dominated region, however that region is defined. With his historical research and then his current deep knowledge of the many so-called mini-lateral links emerging between the likes of Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia (as well as the U.S.), Medcalf makes a strong case for the latter. – Recommended by Greg Earl (Asia Society Global staff)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018, originally published in Japanese in 2016) [fiction]
An eerie look into how Japan's expectations of conformity affect those who don't fit in. – Recommended by Monica Parks (Asia Society Global staff)
Fall Baby by Laksmi Pamuntjak (2019) [fiction]
After a year of turmoil in Indonesia over the re-election of President Joko Widodo and now the challenge of surviving the pandemic, this book by a novelist, poet, food critic from a new generation of female Indonesian writers takes readers much deeper into the emotional and family life of a country undergoing massive social changes. While it is a very personal story of an artist trying to span a life in modern Europe but pulled back to semi-traditional Indonesia – perhaps a bit like the author, it provides engaging insights into the history, art and religious culture of world’s still evolving third largest democracy. – Recommended by Greg Earl (Asia Society Global staff)
Running Toward Mystery: The Adventure of an Unconventionl Life by The Venerable Tenz Priyadarshi and Zara Houshmand (2020) [non-fiction]
Tenzin's story as young Indian boy drawn mysteriously to Buddhisim. A remarkable story by the monk who created the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a wonderful read and tells a story with moments of the ethical philosophy that he explores. – Recommended by Rachel Cooper (Asia Society Global staff)
Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon (2019, originally published in Korean in 2018) [fiction]
Latest installment of Jung Young Moon’s linguistic musings on a residency in Texas which express and at the same time attempt to overcome his worldview / failure to answer the question why are we here. – Recommended by Elisabeth Brock (Asia Society Member)
Superpower Interrupted by Michael Schuman (2020) [non-fiction]
We in the West routinely ask: "What does China want?" The answer is quite simple: the superpower status it always had, but briefly lost. – goodreads.com; as recommended by James Crabtree (author and journalist, speaker at Asia Society 2020)
The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke (2018, originally published in Chinese in 2015) [fiction]
A long night in a village in the mountains: while a boy called stupid waits for the sun to rise, the elderly start dying. No, this is not about Covid-19, although I read the book during the local lockdown, but about a spreading case of somnambulism. Every hour – and they are indicated in the novel – more and more people start dreamwalking, among them members of his family, neighbours, local officials, and a writer called Yan Lianke. The night ends eventually, but not without losses on all sides, and at least one catharsis. – Recommended by Serena Jung (Asia Society Switzerland staff)
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay (2019) [fiction]
This book won the JCB Prize for Literature and a couple of other awards last year, and justifiably so. The story is set in Bangalore and Kashmir, with most of the action taking place in Kashmir. I visited the valley two years ago, and the prose tricked my mind into believing I was bang in the middle of those hills, with all the right sights, smells, and sounds. The characters are extremely well defined, and after a 100 or so pages you feel like you have known them all your life. – Recommended by Deepashree Mahajan (Asia Society Global staff)
The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa by Ching Kwan Lee (2017) [non-fiction]
Lee pushes back on overly simplistic narratives of a hegemonic China, and paints a rich, ethnographic picture of Zambian copper mines and construction sites over her 6 years of research. – Recommended by Jessica Di Carlo (speaker at Asia Society 2020)
Pictorial Memoir: Korea Fifty Years Ago by Martina Deuchler (2019) [non-fiction]
Pictorial Memoir contains a small selection from over three thousand photographs Martina Deuchler took when she lived in Korea in the late 1960s and early 1970s doing field research. These pictures record her early impressions of Korea, a country that was practically unknown in the West at that time. After her field research in Korea, Martina Deuchler was professor of Korean Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London from 1988 until 2000. – Recommended by Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch, Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich
Finished all the listed books? Find more suggestions on previous reading lists.
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