Published in Hong Kong, Asia Literary Review may be difficult to find in US bookstores. I’d never seen it until NewPages’s amazing (heroic, really) team sent it to me. I am sad to think of what I may have missed in the past, delighted to have discovered this sensational magazine, and hopeful that other readers may be able to subscribe to and/or find it in US markets. The cover alone is worth many times the modest price of $11.99 (prices on the back cover are listed for Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, UK, India, Canada, and the US, which gives an idea of the journal’s markets).
The cover is a photo by Jesse Chun, a photographer who lives in Korea, from a series called “Kindred Spirits.” Several other photos from the series are featured in the issue, all as exquisite as the portrait of the boy on the cover. These photos, like all of the work in this issue, capture with astounding sensitive and artfulness the essence of a moment, an experience, a culture, a reality, a mood, a life at its most essential and particular. Chun’s brief note describes the sense of being a nomad herself (“bouncing from country to country”) and hence her interest in photographing nomadic peoples. She manages to fix these images in time as she maintains their sense of mobility, homelessness, wandering, and a kind of wistful, but centered existence.
There is so much to center us here, so much that is, like these photos, yearning, yet solid and sturdy. This is wonderful work. Authentic. Original. Well crafted. Intelligent. Worldly, but like the cover photo, intensely personal. Justine Hardy’s story, “The Recruit,” for example, which begins: “We have lost the language of poetry that we used to speak here.” Kim Cheng Boey’s lovely and nostalgic memoir essay, “Elgar and the Watch My Father Gave Me.” Uma Anyar’s fiction, “Angry Ghosts,” which begins, “I did not steal for personal gain.” Xanhui Yang’s essay, “Woman From Shanghai,” translated by Wen Huang: “I heard this story from a former Rightist Named Wi Wenhan.” Personal and worldly.
The issue features fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, photographs, essays, and politically astute, direct, and illuminating editor’s notes that do not summarize the work in the issue, thankfully, but which offer up commentary about current political realities. The work is fascinating on so many levels. Here, for example, is the opening line of “Shadow Eros,” Maxine Syjuco’s poem: “And we never spoke, but your commas molested me.” And here are the opening lines of a poem by Marjorie Evasco titled “It is Time to Come Home”:
He has just paddled the banca out of Postan Gamay,
where the branches of the mangrove arch above the water
a temple of dark green silence.
And I loved an essay by Julian Baggini, “Food for Thought – Kimchi and Cabbage,” on the 22nd World Congress of Philosophy.
Contributor’s notes, complete with authors’ photographs, indicate that many of the contributors are like photographer Chun’s nomads, “bouncing” around: born in Vietnam, living in the US (Andrew Lam); raised in India, having lived in Hong Kong and England (Kavita Jindal); raised in the US, living in Bali (Renne Melchert Thorpe); born in Singapore, now an Australian citizen (Kim Chen Boey). The journal anchors us, happily, to some amazing writers whose work reminds us, in the very best sense, that the more something succeeds in its specific and local singularity, the more it succeeds in its universality.