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Revisiting Asia’s past, present


“From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia” (Allen Lane) by Pankaj Mishra. This is the story of the Asian intellectual’s response to Western imperialism. It is an intelligent and rewarding read that crisscrosses time and space, helping readers better understand the lingering resentments and contemporary developments. The sections on Japanese Pan-Asianism and diaspora ferment in Tokyo during the early 20th century are illuminating.

“Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster” (Palgrave Macmillan) by Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill. This exploration of Japan’s March 11 disasters draws on captivating interviews with survivors and is told uncommonly well by two veteran Japan-based journalists who share their emotions, experiences and insights. The authors contrast the quiet dignity of ordinary Japanese with the bungling of government authorities and Tepco.

“Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the U.S.” (Rowman and Littlefield) by Gavan McCormack and Satoko Oka Norimatsu. The U.S. bases in Okinawa continue to be an irritant in bilateral relations. This book shifts our focus from Tokyo and Washington to the perceptions and grievances of Okinawans and why they oppose the U.S. presence. The authors help readers understand a grassroots democratic movement challenging the garrison island status quo.

“Depression in Japan: Psychiatric Cures for a Society in Distress” (Princeton University Press) by Junko Kitanaka. Kitanaka takes us behind the clinical curtain, helping us to understand the role of psychiatrists in mainstreaming depression in response to growing social distress. She shows that depression is not really new in Japan and finds that the prevailing system of diagnosis and treatment serves men better than women.

“The Garden of Evening Mists” (Weinstein Books) by Tan Twan Eng. This captivating novel about wartime Malaya focuses on the traumatic memories of an ethnic Chinese woman brutalized during the years of the Japanese Occupation. The ethereal tea plantation setting brings out the Tan’s gift for luminescent prose while flashbacks unveil the survivor’s complex emotions toward an emigre Japanese gardener.

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” (Random House) by Katherine Boo. Taking us into the bowels of a slum in the outskirts of Mumbai, the author probes the underbelly of modern India. This is brilliant reportage that draws on the perceptions and resilient struggles of residents in this marginalized community. Their world is a microcosm of the massive challenges that confront the rising India story.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan campus.