Wednesday 12 April 2023

#bookreview: UNSAID: An Asian Anthology | Anitha Devi Pillai (ed.)

UNSAID: An Asian AnthologyUNSAID: An Asian Anthology by Anitha Devi Pillai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

UNSAID: An Asian Anthology started off strong, but ended up a little meh towards the end. It was a really weird feeling of going "ooh I really like the stories in this anthology" to "ummmm like that only ah?", especially since the sequence of stories moved from sad, dark real-to-life stories I tend to get bored by to supernatural, legend type stories that I tend to like so I kind of expected it to be the inverse.

The first four stories in The Others category deal with dark matters - the constant othering and prejudices many Asians face, even within their own cities. Nothing is more relatable than Saras Manickam's "When We Are Young"; which non-Malay Malaysian hasn't faced this very scenario? How often do we have to talk about meritocracy and quotas for nothing to change? Cherrie Sing's "The Taste of Pickles" also elicited nods: yes, these things happen, what can you do about it? "Broken Filaments" by Paul GnanaSelvam presents a very odd premise - yet I can imagine it happening in small-town Malaysia in the 80s; we all know weird old teachers like that with strange ideas and the inability to accept a no. I resonated with the home-away-from-home in "Diwali Lights" by Adwiti Subba Haffner; that feeling of in-betweenness where you long for what was even though you know that the here and now are your true home.

Knotted Ties explores relationships, both familial and within the local community. Of the five stories here, the middle three (The Peanut Turtle, The Broken Window, Lata) stood out to me. These are the kinds of stories that I, personally, would like to read more of: that dissonance between your own and your adopted cultures, of having to match what you know with what you were supposed to have known. "The Peanut Turtle" (Dennis Yeo) was the most intriguing, probably because of the format. It switched between the protagonist's first trip to Malaysia as a child (told in the present tense), and something like a memoir (diary?) of the events written in the future that explained the historical & cultural background plus many of the gaps in the child's knowledge - which really made for a strange reading. Oddly enough, it works. Whilst I did like "The Apartment of Good Intentions" (Adriana Nordin Manan), it ended rather abruptly and felt a little incomplete to me.

That dissatisfaction of "huh, something feels missing here" carried over into the last section, The Unknown, which felt like the weakest set of the whole anthology. Maybe I was bored by the time I got to it, I don't know, or maybe I've read too many similar ghost/supernatural stories that nothing really stood out or got me excited in this batch of stories. Or maybe there was just too much revenge going on, whether in life or from beyond the grave. That said, they're interesting enough, and still worth a read.

As a whole, Unsaid is a solid collection of short stories set in Asia. (I hesitate to say "by Asians" because there are a couple of names that don't seem to be specifically Asian based on their bios.)

Note: I received a review of this book from PRH SEA. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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