10 Interesting Books on Southeast Asia


Have yourself a cup of coffee and sit still, because we are about to give you a top-10 list of recommended books which tell more than stories about Southeast Asia!


Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

This book not only greatly describe the political landscape in Burma (now Myanmar) but also about its people, the land, and the actual circumstances which the rest of the world does not take time to see. Larkin’s fluency in Burmese helps her a lot in writing this book that is rooted in her political travelogues. But apart from that, in experiencing her journey, Larkin retraces the real life of George Orwell and use his steps as her compass that she even spent some time to visit the places where Orwell spent most of his times in Burma.



Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery by William Warren

Jim Thompson was once instrumental in reinvigorating Thailand’s silk industry and proven by the fact that Southeast Asian people often regard him as a true legend for giving up his own life and career to form the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. However, 1967 marked the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson who was supposedly on a stroll in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. The mystery remains uncovered until now. To make matter worse, this book is the only definitive, and an authoritative piece on Jim Thompson since the author itself is someone who knows him quite well. Will we forever fail to trace him?



Sing to the Dawn by Minfong Ho

A novel about a Thai village girl that was written by Minfong Ho who raised in Thailand that makes the readers get a crystal-clear Thai experience. Although the author is very familiar with Thai settings, he was born in Myanmar. Perhaps this is why the problem that is told in this book is closely related to the typical Asian family, where traditional Asian parents believe that girls should stay at home instead of pursuing further studies and build her career. It is interesting because this novel gives a fresh point of view of breaking an old belief and respect it at the same time—through one ’s determination and perseverance.  



Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

This is the first novel of Preeta Samarasan and set in 1980s Malaysia. The story highlights the life of a wealthy family of Rajasekrharan. From their marriage, Raju, a wealthy lawyer and Vasanthi have three children Uma, Suresh, and Aasha.

Samarasan smartly arranged the storyline using flashbacks to reveal the family ’s secrets, and at the same time, the book implicitly depicts the social structure of post-` colonial Malaysia.



First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia by Loung Ung

A non-fiction book that tells about a government official’s child named Loung Ung who lived in Phnom Penh for five years since the day she was born. After that was not a life with prosperity, but it was where the sorrow began. Ung left the capital to become a child soldier when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city. Inspiring yet dark, dreadful yet hopeful, this book knows how to leave marks in our mind unforgettably.



Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester

The best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester discusses a legendary catastrophic event of Krakatoa eruption that occurred in 1883. Krakatoa, which is considered the most dangerous volcano, is located in the fairway of the Sunda Strait just between the islands of Java and Sumatera, Indonesia. A series of blasts on Krakatoa island was followed by an immense tsunami, killing almost 4,000 people. As dangerous as the readers can imagine, the waves were felt until France, the historical eruption sound was heard as far away as Perth, Australia. For you who do not know, one of the world’s most recognized paintings, The Scream, by Edvard Munch was inspired by airborne debris from the eruption of Krakatoa that made the sky in Norway turned red.

In this book, Winchester was at his best explaining the legendary eruption from the historical, social, biological, religious, and cultural perspectives.



Indonesia, Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani

The way Pisani constructs her words is interesting. She reveals every heartbeat of Indonesia she encountered when living in the country, from the tiniest habit until phenomena in Indonesia are described beautifully. The term “etc.” itself is originally used in Indonesia’s proclamation text that still leaves a question as to where the country woulddirect its independent identity to. This book provides the readers with a real picture of Indonesia and its circumstances frankly and boldly.



Saint Jack by Paul Theroux

If you want to have an honest portrait of the 1960s Singapore, give this book a go! Saint Jack is described as an American expat whose struggles revolve around being a pimp with big profits without losing his sense of morals. Singaporeans’ lives are uncovered!



Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

It is a story about a young man named Jim who is always in quest of further challenges in his life. He is already a promising profile but still dreams of heroic deeds. With nautical settings, half of the novel takes place in Indonesia.  



Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World – Portrait of a Revolutionary by Ninotchka Rosca

If you are looking for a book that tells about Filipino politics, grab this one! Jose Maria Sison is the founding father of the Communist Party in the Philippines and at the same time, he was a great contribution to the Filipino revolutionary movement. Not only does it tell about the life of Sison when he was mistreated in prison, but it also reveals the political relationship between the Philippines and the US from Sison’s perspective.


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Nadya Yolanda Moeda
A former travel blogger who is now a full time consultant & loves to write about everything under the sun