Reading Southeast Asia

I’ve spent most of my life in Singapore, that tiny city-state near the equator. But it was only since moving away from it, a year in the UK, six years now in California, that I have begun to concern myself with reading more books by Southeast Asians, or set in Southeast Asia.


Imaginary Friends – Melanie Lee
A different sky – Meira Chand
Soy Sauce for Beginners – Kirstin Chen
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
A spy in the house (The Agency #1) 
The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) – YS Lee
The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee
Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials – Ovidia Yu


Ghost bride – Yangsze Choo
Five Star Billionaire – Tash Aw
The harmony silk factory – Tash Aw
The gift of rain – Tan Twan Eng
Sorcerer to the crown – Zen Cho
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng


Bangkok 8 – John Burdett (Thailand)
The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi (American, set in futuristic Thailand)

The Headmaster’s Wager – Vincent Lam (Vietnam)
Vietnamerica: a family’s journey – GB Tran


The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (Myanmar)


The girl from the coast – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia)
Beauty is a wound – Eka Kurniawan

The shadow of the banyan tree – Vaddey Ratner (Cambodia)


The Dr Siri series (The Coroner’s Lunch, Thirty-three teeth) – Colin Cotterill



Southeast Asia

The Inspector Singh series (A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder; A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul; The Singapore School of Villainy) – Shamini Flint (Southeast Asia)




Crazy rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (Singapore)
If I could tell you – Lee Jing-Jing (Singapore)
Tanamera – Noel Barber (British, set in colonial Singapore)
The Singapore Grip – J.G. Farrell (British, set in colonial Singapore)
Breaking the tongue : a novel – Vyvyane Loh (Malaysian-American, set in Singapore)
The Scent of the Gods – Fiona Cheong (Singapore)
Foreign bodies – Hwee Hwee Tan (Singapore)
The Scholar and the Dragon – Stella Kon (Singapore)


Five star billionaire – Tash Aw (Malaysian, set in Shanghai)
Certainty – Madeleine Thien (Canadian, set partly in Malaysia)
The rice mother – Rani Manicka (Malaysia)


The king’s last song, or, Kraing meas – Geoff Ryman (Canadian, set in Cambodia)
When broken glass floats : growing up under the Khmer Rouge : a memoir – Chanrithy Him (Cambodia – nonfiction)
First they killed my father : a daughter of Cambodia remembers – Loung Ung (Cambodia – nonfiction)


The year of living dangerously – C.J. Koch (Australian, set in Indonesia)
All that is gone – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia)
The Mute’s soliloquy : a memoir – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia)
The Buru Quartet (This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and House of Glass) – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia – nonfiction)


The river of lost footsteps : histories of Burma – Thant Myint-U
The lizard cage – Karen Connelly (Canadian, set in Burma)
Burmese lessons – Karen Connelly (Canadian, set in Burma – nonfiction)
Finding George Orwell in Burma – Emma Larkin (American, set in Burma)
Everything is broken : a tale of catastrophe in Burma – Emma Larkin (American, set in Burma)
From the land of green ghosts : a Burmese odyssey – Pascal Khoo Thwe (Burma – nonfiction)


Ilustrado – Miguel Syjuco (The Philippines)
Leche – R. Zamora Linmark (The Philippines)
Ginseng and other tales from Manila – Marianne Villanueva
Mayor of the roses : stories – Marianne Villanueva (The Philippines)
The Tesserect – Alex Garland (British, set in the Philippines)
The solemn lantern maker : a novel – Merlinda Bobis (The Philippines)


Fieldwork – Mischa Berlinski (American, set in Thailand – non-fiction)
Bangkok 8 – John Burdett (British, set in Thailand)
The Jimm Juree series (Killed At The Whim Of A Hat; Grandad, There’s A Head On The Beach; The Axe Factor; Hidden Genders) – Colin Cotterill (British, set in Thailand)


Le colonial : a novel – Kien Nguyen (Vietnam)
The tapestries : a novel – Kien Nguyen (Vietnam)
The lotus eaters – Tatjana Soli (Austrian, set in Vietnam)
Headmaster’s Wager – Vincent Lam (Canadian, set in Vietnam)
The unwanted : a memoir – Kien Nguyen (Vietnam – non-fiction)
Catfish and Mandala – Andrew X. Pham (Vietnam – non-fiction)

The reeducation of Cherry Truong – Aimee Phan (American, set in Vietnam etc)


There are also some great lists at Library Thing and at GoodReads (like this interesting list of speculative fiction, and a list of books for ‘backpacking through Southeast Asia‘)


  1. Thanks for your suggestions. I loved your long list from last year, but didn’t know where to comment. I have read and absolutely loved Evening is the whole day – Preeta Samarasan. I also enjoyed Eng’s Garden of the Evening Mist. I just read Bobis’s Fishhair Woman which was wonderful, but have not read the one of hers you list. I highly recommend it.


      1. I did, but not as many as I’d hoped. Two by Thien (but not Certainty): Dogs at the Perimeter and some stories, Simple Recipes (betting you wouldn’t be able to find this easily, as it was her debut, and I’m not sure it sold internationally). Also Syjuco’s Illustrado, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages as well.

        I also really want to read The Headmaster’s Wager because I really enjoyed his first collection of stories (the one they made into a TV series) but I would have to get this one from the library it seems. And, goodness, I have far too many library books right now as it is… *hangs head* (which won’t stop me from looking for it later today).


  2. Thanks for your advice on finding books from the region. I just started reading This Earth of Mankind by Toer, and have Nguyen’s The Unwanted to read this month.

    Some of my favorite books from those I have read recently are from and about Southeast Asia and surrounding islands. I am not sure you know of them.

    Fish-Hair Woman, by Merlinda Bobbis. Philipines.
    Take Care of Mom, by Kyung-sook Shin. Korea
    Evening is the Whole Day, by Preeta Samrasan. Chinese in Malaysia
    Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo. Chinese in Malayasia–Fantasy

    Also good and also all from Malayasia:
    The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boash, by Arthur Japin.
    Running Dogs, by Ruby Murray.
    Joss and Gold, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. Partly set in Singapore. She also wrote an autobiography that I read long ago that I liked even better.


    1. Thanks for your wonderful suggestions! I have seen some of those titles you mention on your blog – and have read a few of them (Please look after mom, Evening is the whole day, Joss and Gold) and can’t find others at the library (sad!).

      I just borrowed This Earth of Mankind!


  3. Thanks for all the SE Asian recommendations! I’m hoping to find some good Singaporean fiction.
    I hope you enjoy This Earth of Mankind — it was one of my favorite books I read in 2010; unfortunately the rest of the quartet wasn’t quite as enjoyable for me. If you’re looking for other SE Asian books suggestions, I might recommend Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal, a Filipino national icon.


Comments are closed.