Book Review by Keith Lyons
Title: Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World
Editor: Ivy Ngeow
Publisher: Leopard Print London
Probably my first taste of Asia came when as a 12-year-old, a family friend returning from Singapore gave us a gift box of Asian desserts. Inside the ornate box were individually wrapped sweets, each different in appearance, scent, flavour, and texture. One at a time, my siblings and I cautiously opened the exotic items, nominating each other to try a tiny bite before the cube, roll or round was divided up for the sample tasting every evening or so. Some morsels, featuring jellied lychee, shredded coconut, or egg custard were savoured due to their sweetness and slight familiarity. Other desserts, which we later worked out from the inner menu card were made from green tea, black sesame, or durian fruit were more foreign to our taste buds.
When, several weeks later, we eventually finished the last one in the box, we agreed it has been an interesting experience in curious expectation, overcoming resistance and expanding our food horizons.
Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is a little like that exotic gift box, full of surprises, with no two stories alike. Rich and vibrant, the collection of stories explores an assortment of perspectives and experiences, revealing the diversity of Asian culture as well as its many contradictions and enigmas. With twenty-three stories by a selection of new and established writers, the fiction and non-fiction tales range from traditionally-structured pieces to more experimental works, from firmly grounded real-life and realistic stories to jumps into fantasy and the surreal. The variety on offer and variable story length mean the anthology has its own momentum, and is quite compelling, though there does not appear to be any thematic order in their curation. The result is that the reader is taken on many different journeys and in different directions. Almost without exception, the writing is well-crafted, accessible and touching. Picking up this collection you are transported into the lives and cultures of others. Spoiler alert: some of the subject matter is heavy or distressing but handled with sensitivity.
Many of the pieces in the collection revolve around family and food, some challenging traditional roles and raising awareness of larger issues. There are gatherings, and fallings apart, with street food having more than cameo roles. Some of the stories are entertaining, others enlightening — there are quite a few nostalgic reflections on the past as well as numerous strange happenings and breaking of rules. Stories illustrating environmental havoc and greed feature in the collection, as well as the ‘foreigner in a strange land’ type.
The contributing authors are from around the world, with a concentration of writers from Malaysia. One editorial choice I am unsure of is the hands-off editorial approach, which sees variations in British and American English, as well as the non-italicising of non-English words, most often in food terms. With all the authors either born in Asia or having lived and worked across Asia, there’s a broad range of perceptions and insight, and ultimately, some universal lessons for anyone who cares to explore these pages. If the anthology opens readers’ eyes to the fresh literary talent of Asia, then it will have achieved its purpose. Published in early 2022, and showcasing some new voices, perhaps Volume 2 will cast its net even wider.
Editor Ivy Ngeow, who now lives in her fourth culture, is spot on when she declares in the Introduction, “I have found that humanity is more similar than not.”
Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is an eclectic collection of poignant and unexpectedly moving stories. Like a gift box of weird and wonderful novelties, your worldview may never be the same after trying it.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
Click here to read an excerpt from the anthology.
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