Southeast Asia: Wrap-up!

Yesterday morning, my sister said five times in the span of an hour, “it’s November,” with surprise and awe. My brother said, “it feels like it was March and then October, and next month it will feel like March and then November, and I’ll completely forget October.”

Isn’t that exactly how time works now? March was the last month I felt in control of time and each month since then has just slipped right through my fingers. It’s November, already, and it doesn’t feel like the months between November and March even happened at all.

I’m going to use that as the excuse for why I only got around to two books for this month.

What I Read

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan): I’m going to admit something very embarrassing. I got three chapters into this novel in September before I decided to double check that Afghanistan actually was in the Middle East. I’m going to blame growing up under the Bush Administration for this HUGE oversight on my part. Afghanistan is not generally considered to be in the Middle East but it is, however, considered a major enemy of America in the wars that took place (and are taking place) in the Middle East during the War on Terror. I won’t go on about this, I think it speaks for itself, but I will say “thanks, Bush!” and move on. So this book is actually precisely the kind of book I wanted to avoid when I started this challenge. It is extremely trauma heavy. Like probably one of the most traumatic books I’ve ever read. It’s widely touted as a modern classic, and I think it is an important read, but it has an extensive list of trigger warnings. I’m not sure I say the trauma was worth what I learned about the area and the things that were taking place in Afghanistan over the period of this novel. It was a very hard read. It follows the coming-of-age story of Amir in Afghanistan when the country was underside by Russia and terrorist forces. Over the span of three decades, Amir comes to terms with his past, his sins, and his country.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (Malaysia): Best book of the year so far, alert! I loved the ever-living shit out of this book. I’ve heard it praised on Bookstagram since it came out and when I was working at a bookstore last year, it was a popular staff pick, but I didn’t expect it to be such a powerhouse for me. I read a lot of YA, I read a lot of fantasy — this is easily the most original and most well-done in either genre that I’ve read in a long time. I’m not going to explain the plot very well because it’s complex and there’s a lot of world building that can’t be easily summed up because it’s so original, but basically, this novel follows Lei, a young girl in a provincial town who is taken to be a concubine to the king of an Asian-inspired fantasy country. There are beautiful references and remixes of Asian cultures and traditions and mythology, there is a queer romance, there are magic and demons, there are court politics and dramatic spy plots. Aside from the world building, the character development was delicious. Lei was a powerhouse from start to finish, so many secondary characters grew into their own, and don’t even get me started on Wren. I’m going to write a full blog post on what exactly set this book over the edge for me in the genre, but it will have spoilers so read at your peril! Speaking of reading at your peril, this book does have a few triggers, all of which are mentioned in the opening pages of the book itself. The biggest one I can think of is rape, so be warned going in. Still, this book is a five star read for me. Easily the best of the year so far. (Note: I didn’t realize until writing this that Ngan was born in England, though she did grow up between Europe and Malaysia. My apologies for this oversight!)

Further Reading

  • Afghan Refugees: Tomorrow is Election Day, and if there is a God, it will be the end of the reign of The Orange Bigot. As if we need yet another reason to vote him out — during his presidency, he’s slashed the US’s refuge programs to the point where only 4% of his promised amount of refugees from countries that American war politics have destabilized, victimized, and abused are actually being allowed to reach US soil. This article from the New York Times focuses specifically on refugees who provided aid and intel to US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, but The Orange Bigot’s harmful, disgusting, and unethical stance on refugees is making America even more of an evil villain in a bad spy movie.
  • Kamala Harris: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an historical event happening in connection with my reading challenge (completely coincidental, obviously). Kamala Harris, who was born to a Black American father and Indian mother, was announced as Presidential Candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate back in August. If Harris and Biden win, not only will Harris be the first woman Vice President (the highest title held by a woman in the American government system — so far) but also the first person of South Asian decent to take the office (and first Black woman! A Triple Threat!). Harris has already made history merely for being nominated, but hopefully this country is a better place than I think and she will win the office as well!
  • Kashmir: Since roughly August of last year, India overtook Kashmir and enforced strict lockdowns on the area. Between boundary disputes between various nations, religious intolerance, and the bitter after-effects of colonialism, the region is a hot-bed of conflict at the moment. Currently, India, whose president is an Orange Bigot supporter (see Patriot Act volume 2, episode 1 and volume 3, episode 4 for a crash course in the Modi-Trump fiasco) is enforcing heinous, Islamophobic, and unfounded restrictions upon people in the area, ceasing communication from entering or leaving the area, kidnapping and murdering civilians, and more. We need a leader who is willing to stand up to bullies like India when they infringe upon the basic human rights of others.

This is going to be a tough week for our country and I hope you will do what you can to be gentle and patient with yourself, to stay safe and alive, and to keep on fighting the good fight, regardless of the outcome of this election. Curl up with a good book tomorrow night, turn off the news, and center yourself. The news will break whether or not you are watching it. I hope you’ve voted, and if so, you’ve done all you can. I hope you will vote if you haven’t, and when you do, I hope you think of more than just yourself.

It’s November. This year is winding down. Treat yourself with some extra love and kindness this week. Until next time, dear reader!

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