Six new novels from Asian authors to add to your reading list

Across India, Thailand and a fictional dystopian city, these titles analyse the human experience in diverse and immersive ways

From left, The Brotherless Night; The Covenant of Water; and Welcome Me to the Kingdom. Photo: Penguin Random House; Groove Press; Random House
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Stories by Asian writers are increasingly in the spotlight.

After The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won last year's Booker Prize and The Return of Faraz Ali by British Pakistani author Aamina Ahmad gained widespread critical acclaim, appetites for more are growing.

With that in mind, here are six new releases by writers from the continent, including a novel set in Singapore during the Second World War; a story about friendship, secrets and partition in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1964; and a young woman’s journey to becoming a doctor during Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long civil war.

The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

Heng is earning commercial and critical praise for her latest novel, The Great Reclamation. Set 20 years before Singapore gained independence from the British, it's a coming-of-age story of Ah Boon, seven, the son of a fisherman intertwined with the rebirth of a nation.

Uninterested in fishing, Boon prefers to spend time with his best friend Siok Mei whom he eventually falls in love with. He also discovers his unique and strange talent of locating hidden, abundant and movable islands.

However, life gets complicated for Boon, his family and his community when the Japanese army invades Singapore. As the country heads towards a dangerous unknown, Boon stands to lose everything he cherishes including his love for Mei.

Under the Tamarind Tree by Nigar Alam

One night in 1964 in Karachi, Pakistan, everything changed.

Pakistani author Alam’s novel doesn’t start there, however. Throughout the two timelines of the story, the repercussions of the partition of India in 1947 shape the lives of four childhood friends Rozeena, Haaris, Aalya and Zohair.

In the first timeline, in 1964, Rozeena needs her medical career to take off in order to care for her parents and protect the life they have built in Pakistan. And while she has her childhood best friends, whose social standing and different backgrounds seem unimportant at the time, their lives are changed for ever when one of them dies.

Decades later in 2019, Rozeena is now a retired doctor and forms an unlikely friendship with the American granddaughter of one of her old friends, forcing her to think again about the past and its repercussions.

Hospital by Han Song

Acclaimed author Song is considered China’s most prominent science fiction writer, known for exploring themes relating to the impact of technology on human life in dystopian settings.

His latest novel Hospital is no exception.

It’s an experimental narrative of a man named Yang Wei. While travelling for work, Wei suffers a sudden, debilitating stomach pain and wakes up three days later in a hospital.

With no diagnosis and no discharge date, Wei is stuck in a complicated medical system that won’t let him leave. As he attempts to escape, he finds himself at the centre of a corrupt system and confronts his own harrowing reality.

The Brotherless Night by V V Ganeshananthan

V V Ganeshananthan, an American author of Ilankai Tamil descent, took almost 20 years to write her latest novel.

It’s 1981 in the city of Jaffna on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, where Sashi, 16, dreams of being a doctor. But when the start of a three-decade-long civil war tears through the country, Sashi’s life and dreams are turned upside down as she is swept up in the repercussions of politics and violence.

She starts working as a medic at the field hospital for the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, but starts to question her place in the war when they engage in questionable and violent tactics. Sashi then joins a secret project documenting human rights violations during the war, finding herself on a journey that will completely change her.

Welcome Me to the Kingdom by Mai Nardone

This literary debut by Thai-American author Nardone spans the perspectives of three different families over decades and across slums, temples and estates in late-20th century Bangkok.

Immersive, imaginative and highly ambitious, Nardone takes readers into the lives of three families starting with the 1997 financial crisis. From a Thai Elvis impersonator and his daughter to a family lost without their American patriarch and a group of orphaned boys – the lives of these families intersect and intertwine as each strive, scheme and fight to create a “good” life for themselves.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

This epic work of historical fiction by Verghese explores the lives of three generations of one family, attempting to understand a strange anomaly affecting them. At least one person from each generation of the Parambil family dies by drowning, and in Kerala where the story is set between 1900 to 1997, there is plenty of water.

The matriarch of the family, known as Big Ammachi, is the reader's guide in the story, where she witnesses harrowing changes in her own home, family, community and country throughout her life. Through her perspective, the reader experiences India’s natural beauty and the changes one family endures as the country transforms around them.

Updated: October 26, 2023, 2:39 PM