Asian Anthologies, Part I: Another Kind of Paradise, Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific
Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific
Edited by Trevor Carolan
Foreword by Frank Stewart and Pat Matsueda (from Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing )
It is generally agreed upon that, in general, short stories are…nice, like novels for those of us with short attention spans. They are, at times, interesting and funny and maybe even a little insightful. They are the fragile snippets of writing we smile and nod politely about as writers show off their artistic skill and then we say, “Oh, now I see it! Yes, this was the buildup to that wonderful novel they wrote.” Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
But those views only apply to general short stories. And that is the difference between the general short stories, those of that banal, groom-less category, and good short stories that are in a category all their own.
Good short stories are, yes, interesting and funny and insightful, but they also manage to accomplish in a few pages what some novels cannot. The deceptively fragile shell of their moniker hides the foundations underneath and the joy we find in the dips and twists and intricacies of the novel we consume in a single sitting.
Luckily, a collection of very good short stories just came out. Cheng and Tsui Company recently published a new set of Asian anthologies featuring collected short stories from authors around all parts of Asia and the Pacific, starting off with Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific. The work spans from Thailand to Burma to Japan and Vietnam.
In Mi-na Choi of Korea’s “Third Meeting” a mother facing the confines of a traditional Korean marriage is given a second chance, and a dilemma. To emigrate to her husband or stay home? “Her heart tightened again with guilt—not only toward Seuk-ho, but now toward her present husband as well. Was she undeniably such a sinner?” Her decision comes up against an echo of leaving the unfinished family of her first marriage, a son she could not bring with her, and the challenge of living with the expectations of something she no longer knows if she can do.
Filipino Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s “Bushouse” is a tale of coming of age set in the sequestered land of a company bus lot. The narrator, a nameless girl of seventeen, lives with her crippled brother and a mother removed from the world by grief in the shell of an empty bus, a gift from the company to the families of workers who have died. The narrator’s world is one of loneliness and a telling look at the third world’s endless recycling, both of people and things, and struggles with the more universal problem getting what you want when there is nothing there you want to have.
The anthology touches on a lot of different topics, some of them related—marriage, relationships, ties between people—some not (see homosexuality in Singapore and ghosts in the Cambodian jungle, for instance). Trevor Carolan, who edited the book, ties the topics in nicely with each other and their author’s biographical information and makes them flow, even if it seems like they shouldn’t. In the midst of their breadth, all the stories manage to capture that novel-in-short brilliance and the variety brought me some bibliophile’s joy.
For those of us with a jones for prose Another Kind of Paradise is a good collection with fresh, weighty prose and some very good short stories. But perhaps the point of Another Kind of Paradise is not limited to the stories inside it. Frank Stewart and Pat Matsueda of Manoa Journal (who wrote the book’s foreword) put it best:
“What appears to be a simple story by a Vietnamese writer can be a staggering lesson in the clash between personal ethics and social mores. Reading such a story, we feel gratitude to the author for bringing us to the cliff’s edge of morality and to the translator for enabling this moment of revelation. Through such stories, we are offered the chance to re-experience life, to exist among a different people without harm to them or their world. This is surely what we mean by world literature: writing that enables us to stay at home while traveling across temporal, cultural, and geographic boundaries. Reading this literature counters the ideas that the West is at the center of the universe and that its narratives of reality prevail over others.”
If they’re going to put it that way, why read anything else?