Books from Afghanistan, Japan, North Korea, China, Kazakhstan, Burma

It’s the first week of my Asia in 48 books project. I was too excited to start reading, I actually began a bit earlier than I intended (June 25). I finished the books from the following countries : Afghanistan, Japan, North Korea, China and Burma. Here are the book reviews as promised :


Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi

My rating : 13/15

Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi Book Cover
RAHIMI Atiq, Earth and Ashes, Vintage, 2003 [original 2000], 54 p.

The Soviet invades Afghanistan. By a bridge, a young boy and his grandfather sits, waiting for something. As the pages turn, so does their story unfurls. Having escaped from the bombing of their village, the two set off to the mines to see the boy’s father. There, the grandfather plans to break the news to his son : your wife is dead, so is your mother, and your son has lost his hearing. As he waits for the car that would bring him to the mines, grief and doubt settle in. Should he just bury this awful tragedy and not tell his son what had happened? Should he be the one to shatter his own child’s life in pieces?

While this novella is only 54-pages long, author Atiq Rahimi takes advantage of each word to produce a moving, poetic story about family and the tragic ravages of the war. It is written in second-person, a challenge in itself. But Rahimi manages to use this perspective to engage the readers in the story and make them feel the grief of the characters.


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

My rating : 11/15

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata Book Cover
MURATA Sayaka, Convenience Store Woman, Portobello Books, 2018 [original 2016], 163 p.

True to its blurb, the main character of this novel, Keiko, “isn’t normal”. Even at a young age, she has shown a frightening lack of emotions : She stops two kids fighting in the school grounds by hitting one of them in the head with a spade. The pet bird of the family dies and she suggests, without any hint of sadness, to make a yakitori out of it.

In her thirties, she begins working at a convenience store. And she stays there for 18 years. Having had enough of people minding her business — why don’t you have a stable job, why aren’t you married yet — she decides to move in with an ex co-worker and play pretend-couple. But little did she know that doing so will not remove society’s expectations of her, but on the contrary, increase them.

This book poses questions about how a woman is expected to live in contemporary Japanese society. It tackles normalcy/ normativity and the alienation of people who do not fit in pre-established identity labels. The one thing that made this read uneasy is the blatant misogyny of the male character who Keiko lives with; and the lack of retaliation from Keiko regarding his attitude.


The Accusation : Forbidden Stories from the North by Bandi

My rating : 14/15

The Accusation by Bandi Book Cover
BANDI, The Accusation : Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, Grove Press, 2018 [original 2014], 248 p. 

One of the best reads of this week, this short story collection was written by Bandi (pseudonym) while still living in North Korea. We enter the world of the daily lives of the people from this country : a man goes home to sees his sick mother, a comrade refuses to have the tree in his block cutdown, a child and his grandparents get stuck in the train station. Within each seemingly simple story are the tribulations of the citizens living in a communist regime. A poignant, stylistically exceptional story, this is definitely a must-read.

Check out the detailed review of this book.


The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

My rating : 14/15

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu Book Cover
LIU Cixin, The Three-Body Problem, Head of Zeus, 2016 [original 2006], 424 p.

Yet again, another awesome book for this week, this time a hard sci-fi novel. Acclaimed as the best Chinese science fiction, The Three-Body Problem has it all : allusion to an important historical moment in Chinese history (cultural revolution) ; a virtual reality game that interrogates on a physics problem ; secret missions, and possibly aliens.

Check out the detailed review of this book.


Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi

My rating : 13/15

Smile as They Bow by Nu Nu Yi Book Cover
NU NU YI, Smile as they Bow, Hyperion Books, 2008, 146 p.

It is the Taungbyon festival in Mandalay. Villagers rush to pay respect to the nats — spirits of significant people who have died violent deaths. Amidst the desperate prayers, the food offerings, and the unruly crowds are Daisy Bond, a famous gay transvestite medium, and her young lover Min Min. They have been together for seven years, despite Bond’s sharp tongue and hurtful antics. One day; however, Min Min meets a beggar with a beautiful voice and falls madly in love. Rage consumes Bond, what is she to do now that she is about to lose her love?

To someone who knows little about Burmese culture, this was a tough but very enlightening read. Nu Nu Yi writes with a style that is unique and riveting, it is no wonder she is the first writer from Burma to win an international award. The subject matter is obviously delicate. It is the main reason why this novel has been banned for more than a decade by the government. To have this published now in Nu Nu Yi’s home country and abroad is a victorious ode to the rendering visible of queer experiences.

I loved this first week’s list and enjoyed every book I read. Which books would you look to add to your TBR list? Or have you read some of them already? If yes, how was your experience?


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