Books / Reviews

Singaporean publisher mines Asia's wealth of short stories

by Suzanne Kamata

Contributing Writer

Two stories by Japan-based writers appear in the “The Best Asian Short Stories 2018” anthology published by Kitaab in Singapore.

The Best Asian Short Stories 2018, Edited by Debotri Dhar & Zafar Anjum.
270 pages
KITAAB, Fiction.

Avery Udagawa’s translation of “Festival Time,” by Ippei Mogami, with illustrations by Saburo Takada, was selected by editor Debotri Dhar, as one of the top four stories of the collection.

In Mogami’s story, villagers have had to alter their spring festival due to the seasonal labor migration of farmers to cities and rural depopulation.

“I appreciate the child’s-eye view in this story as well as the focus on festival music,” Udagawa says. “‘Festival Time’ also portrays a boy’s relationship with his elderly grandmother, who has dementia, and an elderly man with ‘crying palsy.’ The speech of these elders is distinct from the boy’s speech in Japanese; it was interesting to try and render the contrast in English.”

The book also features “The Rescuer” by Rebecca Otowa of Shiga Prefecture, author of “At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman’s Journey of Discovery.” In this story, a Tokyo insurance agent comes to on a train platform only to realize that he is dead, having fallen onto the tracks while distracted by his smartphone.

Publisher Zafar Anjum initially established Kitaab as a website and a publishing house in order to “connect Asian writers with readers everywhere in the world.” After publishing several short story collections by individual writers, Anjum came up with the idea of issuing a series of anthologies featuring authors from across Asia.

“I had seen these kinds of anthologies in the U.S., but nobody was doing it in Asia, collecting contemporary Asian voices,” Anjum writes via email. “Each volume is a mix of new and seasoned voices. That’s what makes it so exciting. Through the pages of these volumes, you get a glimpse of what the respective societies in Asia are going through.”

The first edition of “The Best Asian Short Stories” appeared in 2017, and was edited by Indian writer Monideepa Sahu. According to Anjum, the book “evoked a great response internationally,” and was widely reviewed in and outside Asia.

The 2018 edition is the second in the series. Dhar, an award-winning, India-born writer, editor and educator, who currently teaches women’s studies at the University of Michigan, chose 20 stories from more than 200 submissions from writers in 15 countries. Ultimately, 13 nations, including India, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore are represented in the final volume.

Anjum has already lined up editors for the next two editions. Acclaimed Jordanian author Hisham Bustani will choose stories for the 2019 anthology, while the 2020 edition will be edited by by Farah Ghuznavi, a writer and editor from Bangladesh.

Anjum writes, “We would love to have editors from Japan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries for forthcoming volumes.”

Kitaab has also been adding other genres to the “Best Asian” series, including “The Best Asian Speculative Fiction,” which was launched in 2018. This year, the publisher will put out collections of “The Best Asian Travel Writing” and “The Best Asian Crime Fiction.”

Kitaab’s titles are available from its website, www.kitaabinternational.com and shipped worldwide.

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