For those celebrating the Lunar New Year, it's an occasion that's almost synonymous with gatherings, evident from traditions like the reunion dinner. It also celebrates new beginnings in friendships and romantic love, to the point of being seen as auspicious for weddings. "Good things come in pairs (好事成双)" - a Chinese saying popular during the season, arguably embodies and symbolises this practice of coming together.
Unions and reunions don't always have to mean the gathering of kin. Besides family, these bonds can be found and forged between people of the same heritage, or those who share interests. Sometimes, they happen in relation to places. And sometimes, they represent a reconciliation process with a part of ourselves.
In anticipation of the Year of the Tiger, we've picked out 6 titles by Asian writers for you, each enveloped with life's warmth, thrill, and bittersweetness. We hope you'll find these stories and their questions meaningful amidst the festivities.
By Li Tong
Through misunderstanding, sympathy, reconciliation and love, seven children forged an abiding friendship in their hometown Penghu, a cluster of islands in the Taiwan Strait. Keeping their promise to reunite twenty years later, the protagonist Glasses returns to Penghu at present time. The waves, fields, cows, coral-stone walls, horsetail trees, and gaillardias seemingly bring back to life those days at school, in the pottery workshop, and on a trip to the Isle of Jibei.
For many, the Lunar New Year doubles as a time of homecoming. Consider picking up Taiwanese writer Li Tong's Again I See the Gaillardias on your way back. Deeply moving with feelings of nostalgia, it is a reflection on friendship, growing up, self-identification, and crucially, the very meaning of "home".
Edited by Aaron Lee and Alvin Pang
No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry is an anthology of poems about Singapore that brings together a rich spectrum of poetic voices and visions at work today. For better or for worse, all of them have one thing in common - they have known the city for most of their lives, and their sense of identity is deeply intertwined with the urban and cosmopolitan landscape of the modern Asian metropolis.
In an age of rapid change and geographical mobility, the concepts of "home" and "family", along with how we relate to them, have undeniably become more complex. And when traditional occasions so hinged upon these ideas come around (i.e. Lunar New Year), how then should we react to them? Within these pages, you may find similar feelings of ambivalence, anxiety, and hope.
By Keigo Higashino
Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. A murder follows - one whose circumstances are so puzzling and strange that even for Dr. Yukawa, a brilliant physics professor whom the police has consulted on similar cases, it'll take an intensive battle of wits and intellect before the cunning culprit can be cornered.
A bestselling crime and psychological thriller, The Devotion of Suspect X is an example of how things can go south following a clearly un-festive and unwelcomed reunion with family. Although more distant in context and darker in mood, Keigo Higashino's blend of a page-turning story, evocative Tokyo setting, and utterly surprising ending certainly make this book a must-read for those seeking relief or escape from obligatory house visits and gatherings.
By Leow Yangfa
Speaking of gatherings during this period, some of us may have those relatives who love their nosy questions and gossips. This must be worse for those among us whom, by society's standards, do not conform to the norms.
I Will Survive is a collection that brings together real-life experiences of love, grace, faith, dignity, and courage from 21 ordinary gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Singapore who have survived extraordinary circumstances. May these stories help you find the strength and solidarity you may need to weather through others' insensitivities. And if you do find one or two around you who are genuinely curious, perhaps this book could serve as a good introduction, or even the start of a new friendship.
By Madeleine Thien
Longing, familiarity and hope fill the pages of Simple Recipes, a collection of stories by Canadian writer Madeleine Thien. It explores the conflicts between generations and cultures with a cast of true-to-life characters who are all looking for ways to make amends and come to terms with the events that have shaped their lives. Compassionate and revealing, delicate and wise, these stories chart the uneven progress of love and expose heartbreaking truths at the core of our closest bonds.
Like the dishes you may be having during reunion dinner, maybe relationships require proper "culinary" efforts as well - family, friends, lovers, and more all carry their unique flavours and spices, each with their own proper handling methods that must be delicately balanced to produce a wonderful experience.
By Alvin Pang
What if Success, Regret, and Failure existed as people and walked alongside us? How would they react to the situations that we face in our lives?
Subtle, yet clear and sincere, Alvin Pang's What Gives Us Our Names is a charming and easy read for everyone. Yet bubbling just beneath its universality and Piers Plowman-esque allegorical fables are thoughtful twists on the ways we look at ourselves, as well as the standards and values we tend to take for granted. The result is beautiful prose that can be both heartwarming and poignant. Its intention may be didactic, for sure, but these personified human states of mind are simply living up to the names which we've decided for them. This reconnection with ourselves and the moral and soulful journey it evokes also makes for a timely read this Lunar New Year.
Did our hotpot of titles - spiced with questions about family, love, friendship, home, identity, and more - satisfy your taste? Hungry for more? Visit our collection of Asian Literature books and find out what else is cooking at our store!