Being an Asian, with parents who do not speak a word of English, and living in a country that is predominantly Chinese, I actually grew up reading Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, and I speak and write English more than I do for my mother tongue. Strange as it may seem, the fact is, most of us Singaporeans are such.
I am not going to lie by saying that I have always been reading diversely. Anyone who takes a look at my bookshelf would know–while Caucasian authors occupy most of my shelves–only a quarter of those shelves belongs to books by Asian authors. And, to tell the truth, these Asian authors made it to my shelf only recently.
It only occurred to me how important and also interesting it would be to read diversely, when I started studying Postcolonial Literature. It was about the same time that booktubers started a week of #diverseathon in September.
My reading of diverse books is still growing and I have promised myself to expand it further come 2017. I started by picking up Tash Aw’s Strangers on A Pier from The Face series by Restless Books. Aw’s anecdotes of his grandparents’ experiences as the first-generation immigrant and his own experiences as the third-generation immigrant, are at once moving and humorous. In this tiny book of 78 pages, Aw paints a vivid picture of having to leave one’s homeland, of diaspora and of displacement. In his words, “to drop their cultural baggage entirely in order to assimilate successfully into their new environment”–to be uprooted from a place born in–is always the first big struggle an immigrant has to overcome. To my mind, this book adequately represents the voice of a third-generation Chinese immigrant of postcolonial Southeast Asia.
Books by Indian writers is another category I wish to explore in my expedition of diversity reading. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, is a short story collection that touches on the lives of Indian-Americans. These stories tell the challenges and confusion of exiles, who are torn between their rich and strict tradition, and the unfamiliar culture of a foreign land. From the story of an estranged Pakistani husband living in America, to a second-generation Indian-American visiting their native land for the first time, Lahiri gives an intimate view of immigrants’ deep longing for acceptance into the New World and also the struggle to shed or preserve their roots.
While Aw’s Strangers on A Pier and Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies share the experiences of Asian migrants, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of a Creole heiress, Antoinette Cosway. Fans of Jane Eyre will take to this book instantly, as it is a prequel Charlotte Bronte’s acclaimed novel. Who exactly is Rochester’s madwoman in the attic? How did this Creole woman, famous for her beauty, become the “savage” looking “vampire”Jane describes? Being a native of Dominica herself, Jean Rhys seems to speak the exact sentiments of a displaced and lonely heiress, who fits in neither with the Europeans nor the Africans.