The best Asian books to read in 2015

Buy Me the Sky by Xinran, Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand

Buy Me the Sky by Xinran, Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh and Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand are among our Literature Festival Manager's top picks of Asian reads in 2015

The best Asian books to read in 2015

29 January 2015

By Jemimah Steinfeld

Our Literature Festival Manager Jemimah Steinfeld has carefully selected 12 Asian books, one for each month of the year. Join us in our latest challenge: read a new book every month and send us your thoughts and comments on the books listed below via our various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Instagram).

A few weeks in and 2015 is already looking set to be a stellar year for Asian literature. Unlike 2014, when the scales tilted on the side of fiction over non-fiction, 2015 presents strong contenders in both categories. In fact, with so much good material hitting the shelves, the biggest dilemma is finding the time to read it all. If you’re an aspiring writer why not even review one and blog about it?

January – Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
It’s general election year in the UK and figures are currently circulating about the proportion of women expected to vote. There’s no better time then to read a book about the fight for female suffrage. Introducing Anita Anand and her book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. The BBC journalist’s hotly anticipated literary debut looks at the life of Sophia Duleep Singh, a dispossessed Indian princess who joined the battle for female suffrage in the UK. With meticulous research and a broader context of the fall of the British Empire, this is the perfect start to 2015.

February – This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian
Another timely read given the recent unexpected election result in Sri Lanka, up-and-coming writer Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island is an extraordinary account of the 30-year-long Sri Lankan war and the lives it changed. Subramanian, whose first book Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast was praised by literary heavyweights like William Dalrymple, is particularly well placed to tell this story. He grew up in the Tamil Nadu region of India and he has been visiting Sri Lanka for the past 10 years.

March – Frog by Mo Yan
Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan likes to chronicle the sweeping history of modern China through looking at one or two of its defining themes. In his latest novel, just translated into English, it’s the one-child policy. The central protagonist is Gugu, a former midwife who delivered hundreds of babies during Mao Zedong’s (Chairman Mao’s) reign when women were encouraged to procreate. Her career takes a u-turn in post-Mao China, where the one- child policy demands more people to perform abortions instead.

April – The Infernal by Mark Doten
Up in April is The Infernal by Mark Doten, which joins a growing trend of fiction on the Iraq War. Doten starts the book in the early years of the War. A severely injured boy suddenly appears in a remote part of the Akkad Valley, inviting a powerful group within the US government to speculate on who he is, and more important still, what he knows. In pursuit of answers to these questions, the boy tells a series of stories. Through him we hear the voices of Osama bin Laden, L. Paul Bremer, Condoleezza Rice and Mark Zuckerberg, amongst others.

May – Buy Me the Sky: The remarkable truth of China’s one-child generations by Xinran
The wait is over for a new book from Xinran, one of China’s most prolific and well-respected female writers.  Xinran gained notoriety as a presenter on China’s first ‘lonely hearts-style’ radio show in the 1990s and then turned her hand to writing. In Buy Me the Sky, Xinran looks at China’s only children, born after the imposition of the one-child policy. They’re typically generalised as spoilt ‘little emperors’, but is that label accurate?

June – The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
If you enjoyed Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance or Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others then the The Year of the Runaways will be up your reading street. Derbyshire-born writer Sunjeev Sahota chronicles the story of 13 young men living in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in search of a new life in the UK. Through these characters, we are introduced to stories set between India and England, and the past and the present.

July – She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry
American poet Quan Barry’s fiction debut promises to be a mind-bending look at the tumultuous history of modern Vietnam. Her main character is Rabbit, who journeys away from her destroyed village with a makeshift family thrown together by war. Rabbit has a special skill – she can speak to the dead. With its use of magical realism, the novel reconstructs a turbulent historical period through a human lens.

August – Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh
It’s August and you hopefully have a week or two set aside for holiday. With that in mind, a weighty page turner is ideal. Incoming Kolkata-born Amitav Ghosh and the exciting conclusion to his hugely popular Ibis Trilogy Flood of Fire is a work of historical fiction with parallels to our time. It starts in 1839 when China embargoes the lucrative trade of opium grown on British plantations in India. The colonial government sends an expeditionary force from Bengal to Hong Kong to reinstate it, thus provoking the first Opium War and from there the action unfolds.

September – Farewell Kabul: How the West Ignored Pakistan and Lost Afghanistan by Christina Lamb
It’s back to work time and with that something a little more serious for the autumn. Journalist and bestselling author Christina Lamb’s The Retreat is September’s choice. This book looks at the recent conflict in Afghanistan from the perspective of the Western men and women who went there. In this personal account, which benefits from Lamb’s sharp analysis of the realities of Afghanistan, Lamb argues that what could have been a success turned into defeat due to lack of foresight and knowledge of the terrain.

October – A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk
According to the author himself, the ninth novel from Turkey’s Nobel laureate should be available in English in 2015. We have our hopes pinned for October. A Strangeness in My Mind explores the changes in Turkish society over the last few decades from the perspective of an Istanbul street vendor. Apparently Orhan Pamuk spent six years writing it, so you can imagine the excitement around this book, which was published in Turkish in December 2014. Bring on October!

November – Dispatches from the Kabul Café by Heidi Kingstone
The penultimate read of 2015 takes you back to Afghanistan. You may have already read the first half of Dispatches from the Kabul Café, which is produced by new publishing house Advance Editions and allows members of the public to edit the book ahead of publication. The second half is out in May and will be available both as an e-book and in printed format. It’s an at times light-hearted, at other times dark, look at expat life in war-torn Kabul. Read an interview with Heidi Kingstone here.

December – Love + Hate by Hanif Kureishi
It’s December aka the busiest month of the year. What better way to keep up the reading but accommodate to the season than by dipping into short stories. Love + Hate by Hanif Kureishi is December’s pick.  This collection of short fiction and essays from the headliner of the 2014 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival includes a story of a Pakistani woman who has begun a new life in Paris, an essay about the writing of Kureishi’s acclaimed film Le Week-End (2013) and a personal piece about the conman who stole Kureishi’s life savings – a man who provoked both love and hate.

We’re fortunate to be featuring some of these writers in our upcoming literature festival, the 2015 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, which will be held in May.

To read Jemimah Steinfeld’s pick of the best Asian fiction and non-fiction books in 2014 click here.

And don’t forget to check our Arts and Learning events schedule here.