Asia: Historical Fiction
February 19, 2009 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Anybody have recommendations for good historical fiction/nonfiction books set in China or Southeast Asia?

When I was traveling in Japan I read Shogun and thoroughly enjoyed the entertaining look back at the country's history. Hoping to get the same type of education while traveling for 1.5 months in: Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. (Though China is probably the best focus as I'll be spending the largest chunk of time there at the end of my trip.)

Thanks in advance!
posted by ebeeb to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now by Jan Wong?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:17 PM on February 19, 2009

The 4 major chinese classics - Romance of Three Kingdoms, Water Margin (Outlaws of the marsh), Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber.

They're all fiction with Romance supposedly 30% historical (or the other way around, I don't remember)
posted by 7life at 3:18 PM on February 19, 2009

Isabel Allende's novel Daughter of Fortune involves long stretches in nineteenth-century China; most of the rest of the novel takes place in South America and California. It's an excellent, absorbing read. The "China parts" are some of the best in the book, too.
posted by Neofelis at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2009

Hm, me fail linkage? That's unpossible.
posted by Neofelis at 3:20 PM on February 19, 2009

Dalrymple is known for this.
Theres The Great Railway Bazaar, a travelogue by Theroux.
Richard Francis Burton sometimes writes about SE Asia. theres this.
I also found this list.
posted by sidr at 3:24 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you liked Shogun, maybe you would enjoy Tai Pan.
posted by bristolcat at 3:30 PM on February 19, 2009

Peony in Love by Carolyn See is excellent.
posted by scratch at 3:50 PM on February 19, 2009

Snow Flower and the Painted Fan is a fictional story of a woman's life in late-1800s China. I enjoyed it.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:55 PM on February 19, 2009

Check this previous post

My suggestions were:
The Good Women of China by Xinran
China road : a journey into the future of a rising power by Rob Gifford
One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
Sons of Heavan by Terrence Cheng
posted by nimsey lou at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2009

Geez, I even had to double-search for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, because I originally typed "Painted Fan" and it didn't bring up the amazon link, and then I come in here and call it "Painted Fan"? The title, as is obvious if you click the link, is that the book I recommend is called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Sorry about that.
posted by Ms. Saint at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2009

Well I think they're probably not very politically correct, and certainly historical accuracy has been questioned, but I love Pearl Buck.
posted by nax at 4:05 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

For some real historical perspective on China, check out Monkey. The version I linked is abridged, but it's highly entertaining and beautifully translated. Reading it will also help you understand how the Chinese suffer bureaucracy so well ... they've been dealing with it forever!

For a (much) more modern take, I loved Chinese Lessons by John Pomfret. The stories are compelling, and if you want to know how business really works in the new China, it's a great book.
posted by thebergfather at 4:24 PM on February 19, 2009

As I worked my way to Cambodia, I read Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father. Non-fiction.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2009

I would have to recommend "Finding George Orwell in Burma" by Emma Larkin (a pseudonym). Really wonderful nonfiction book about current day Burma and the Burma that Orwell experienced and how it influenced his writings.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2009

Peter Hessler, a staff writer for National Geographic and the New Yorker, wrote River Town: Two Years On The Yangtze, about the time he spent in the Peace Corps in a tiny little town in Sichuan province, and Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present, which is a loosely connected series of chapters exploring modern China. Both are excellent, Hessler's insights into China are shaped by a keen sense of history.
posted by so much modern time at 6:02 PM on February 19, 2009

I had some recommendations in the previous thread linked above, and also like nax have a penchant for works that now seem a bit dodgy due to imperialist or racist attitudes but nevertheless have some excellent first-hand experiences to share.
Not sure if you will have a computer with you, but two you could read for free courtesy of Google books:
Twelve Years in China by John Scarth
Ti-ping Tien-kwoh by Augustus F. Lindley - by a British naval officer so outraged by the immorality of the opium trades/wars he served the Taiping rebels.
posted by Abiezer at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2009

Southeast Asia?

Try The Ugly American and its sequel, Sarkhan, by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.
posted by Rash at 8:35 PM on February 19, 2009

I second Pearl S. Buck
posted by gt2 at 9:17 PM on February 19, 2009

Anthony Grey has written a number of books set in Asia. I've read Tokyo Bay, which was quite good. Apparently Saigon is very good too, although I haven't read it (I skimmed it briefly in a library somewhere). These two books are fictional stories set against real events. I seem to remember that there were historical sections at the beginning of a number of chapters.

He was also held in China during the cultural revolution and wrote a book about his experiences.
posted by mukade at 5:48 PM on February 20, 2009

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