Background reading: Asia

Fushimi inari Trail, Kyōto-shi, Japan


Heading to Asia? Here’s a handy list of background reading:

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, “a floating world” of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions.[Japan]

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
A thriller with attitude to spare, Bangkok 8 is a sexy, razor-edged, often darkly hilarious novel set in one of the world’s most exotic cities.[Thailand]

The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag
The first and only member of the Tuvans to use written language to tell stories, Galsan Tschinag chronicles their traditions in this fascinating, bittersweet novel.[Mongolia]

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew Pham
“The story of an American odyssey—a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam—made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland.” [Vietnam]

Crowfall by Shanta Gokhale
Steeped in sensuous detail, Crowfall takes in art and identity, music and communal madness, and the clash of the old and the new to etch a finely nuanced portrait of contemporary Mumbai.” [India]

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. [Canada, China]

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
Set in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.” [Malaysia]

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.” [India]

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy
Based on her daily diary, this is Dervla Murphy’s account of her ride, in 1963, across frozen Europe and through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India, during one of the worst winters in memory.” [India]

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family.[India]

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux’s strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature.” [Europe, Asia, Middle East]

Indonesia, Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani
Author Elizabeth Pisani traveled 26,000 miles in search of the links that bind this disparate nation.[Indonesia]

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
A shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world’s great cities, by its foremost writer.[Turkey]

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
“A fascinating family saga set against the vast, colourful background of the India of the 20th century.[India]

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
A mesmerizing book that explores how traditional religions are observed in today’s India, revealing ways of life that we might otherwise never have known.[India]

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope
“Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads lead, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.”

The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience by Christophe Jaffrelot
Today, Pakistan faces existential challenges ranging from ethnic strife to Islamism… But the resilience of the country and its people, the resolve of the judiciary and hints of reform in the army may open a new and more stable chapter in its history.” [Pakistan]

Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra
Combining Indian myths, epic history, and the story of three college kids in search of America, a narrative includes the monkey’s story of an Indian poet and warrior and an American road novel of college students driving cross-country.[India]

Singapore: A Biography by Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow
[Takes] readers through the earliest Ming dynasty Chinese accounts of the island, the founding of modern Singapore, its growth as an emporium and port city, the Japanese occupation, and finally self-determination and independence.[Singapore]

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.[India]

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensa
Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting.[Thailand]

The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies
A captivating tale of dark secrets, sisterly rivalry and love against the odds, enchantingly set in colonial era Vietnam.[Vietnam]

The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 by Ferdinand Mount
A sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family.” [India]

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Translator: Jay Rubin
Japan’s most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.[Japan]