Books

Invited by Anukshi Jayasinghe to write for Ceylon Today’s Celebrity Bookcase section, these are five books I love and keep returning to.

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Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
A compelling novel based on the indentured labour from Japan, mostly young women, who came over to the West Coast of the United States. This is the horrible, exploitative and violent flip side of the glitzy American dream – of women beguiled into a better life outside Japan, only to face hard labour, rape and utter deracination of self-respect, yet ultimately embracing a foreign land and raising their own children. A moving read.

Can Asians Think? by Kishore Mahbubani
First read in 1999 as an undergraduate, a book I keep coming back to. Mahbubani is currently Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. It’s a collection of essays on Asian identity. Mahbubani’s clear prose champions a fusion of Western and Asian civilisations and calls for “retooling the social, political and philosophical dimensions” of our societies.

Harold Pinter – Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics 1948 – 2005
I picked Pinter in Karachi in my first visit to the city in 2006, weeks after the bombing of the Marriot Hotel. We were advised to not wander away from our hotel. I did, and walked into a bookstore amidst the wails of sirens. It was an apt context and backdrop to a book that so incisively deals with, inter alia, violence, human dignity, human rights and war.

Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers by Shashi Tharoor
Recommended by a close friend who was at the time in Iraq, I picked up the book many moons ago at Barefoot and finished it before I left its garden café. Just as Riot is for me Shashi’s best fiction, this tome captures, at a time the author was a UN Under Secretary General, some of his best essays on topics as diverse as film, literacy, diplomacy, myth and above all, the power of the written word even in the most despondent circumstances.

Questions Without Answers: The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII
Weighing over 1kg, this VII’s tome cannot be read reposing on a haansi-putuwa or bed. As noted on the publisher’s website, “what unites VII’s work is a sense that, in the act of communication at the very least, all is not lost; reparation is always possible; despair is never absolute”. From photographs that capture the visceral to the ephemeral, the outstandingly beautiful to the acutely painful, this book is impossible to ‘read’ in one go and is one of the best books on photography I own, and have perused.

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