by Adrienne Loftus Parkins
After a many years of living in India, Singapore and China, I feel in a way like I ‘grew up’ reading books by Asian authors. I read a lot of books with Asian themes; I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember, first for fun, then as part of a job, now for fun again. They have become part of the fabric of my life.
So, why Asian books?
Well, many readers choose books because they want to travel to a different world, to experience diverse cultures and to understand what is happening in the minds of other people. Some choose particular books just because they want a romping good read. I read Asian books for all those reasons. Books like Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance gave me invaluable insight into a period of Indian history as it affected ordinary citizens, while The White Tiger, as well as having a serious message, made me smile throughout.
Now that Asia is no longer part of my daily experience, Asian books give me the opportunity to immerse in other cultures, enriching my life in ways that even living in a country can’t do on its own. They offer something that you can’t get from reading our own national literature: an expansion of thought and experience, an understanding of other worlds and insight into our own from different points of view.
In 2007, when I started the Festival of Asian Literature, there were very few events focused on Asian or British Asian writing. I felt a pan-Asian literature festival was important because there were poets and writers in that broad genre that the British public was missing out on.
Now, eight years later, I can say I’ve seen both the quality and quantity of what is available in the UK grow and grow. Bookshops, festivals and literary venues across the country know that they must feature Asian and other international writers or they risk being left behind. Asian and British Asian writing isn’t everywhere yet (there is still much to do), but it’s on its way.
The efforts of literary bodies, venues, websites and online magazines like The Asian Writer have been instrumental in making this happen.
Over the coming months, this column will celebrate the uniqueness and variety of this genre by examining books I’m reading, looking at emerging trends, at controversies like identity, stereotyping, authenticity and occasionally turning to what is happening in literature in other parts of Asia or in other UK Asian communities.
I hope this will stimulate you to explore. I welcome your comments, thoughts, criticisms or suggestions. You can contact me at guest(at)theasianwriter.co.uk
Adrienne is an independent curator, consultant and producer of live events focused on contemporary world literature. She is the Founder and former Director of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival – the only festival in the UK dedicated to writing about Asia and Asians. Adrienne co-founded Anamika, a women’s educational group in India, has worked closely with the Pan Asian Women’s Association to promote Asian women writers and is a cross-cultural consultant to businesses.