The history, culture and geography of Asia is a perfect backdrop for gripping historical fiction. Here is our collection of expert recommended historical fiction set in Asian locations, including Jing-Jing Lee's How We Disappeared—a historical novel about the Japanese occupation of Singapore—and Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace, which follows the life of the last Burmese king and his family.
“This novel is Goswami’s last work of fiction. Set in late 19th century Assam, it follows the life of Thengphakhri, a Bodo freedom fighter who has been immortalized in Assamese folklore, songs, and stories. She was employed by the British colonial administration in the Bijni kingdom in lower Assam as a revenue or tax collector, the eponymous ‘tehsildar’—perhaps the first woman in that post. At that time, educated Indians and the British government were both trying to bring about reform in the country by working to eliminate patriarchal and misogynistic practices like sati, child marriage, the purdah system, etc. and encourage widow remarriage. Alongside all of that, we have this swashbuckling protagonist, where she’s boldly riding horses, wearing hats over flying knee-length black hair. Eventually, she rebels against the British” Read more...
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“It’s a historical novel that reads like a gripping political thriller. She takes on a controversial subject: the inner circle of Ho Chi Minh, president of North Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969, and hero of Vietnamese independence. He was beloved by millions in communist North Vietnam but vilified by the South. “ Read more...
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“How We Disappeared is a historical novel about the Japanese occupation of Singapore. It’s a sweeping epic and tells the tragic story of a young girl who gets taken as a comfort woman. This is an essential read. It’s a wonderful introduction to Singaporean literature and where Singaporean literature is headed. It’s incredibly beautifully written and very understated.” Read more...
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“With ancient Indonesia as its setting, fuelled with Yusi’s explosive—verging to chaotic, unapologetic, humorous style of writing—I’m interested to see if this book will get translated. It would be an interesting and refreshing window to peek into the richness of Indonesian literature.” Read more...
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The story told in Shogun, the 1975 blockbuster by James Clavell about an English sailor who ends up living in the Japan of 1600, was based on a real person: Will Adams of Gillingham in Kent. The book was recommended to us by historian Ian Mortimer, in his interview on Life in the Tudor Era. “I was so entranced by the world of the 16th century he created that I’ve really had a fascination for it all my life,” he said.
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“The Romance of the Three Kingdoms only became a book a thousand years after the events which it describes. You could say that its story is the story of all China, passed down from father to son. It is one of China’s four great classical novels, which also include the Journey to the West. But only with Romance of the Three Kingdoms did old Chinese stories really become Chinese literature. It’s also beautifully written. A reader can harvest a lot of history and knowledge from this book, because it chronicles all aspects of China. You can discover in it the entirety of the Chinese character, ancient and modern. All Chinese people today can find themselves in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, whether you are rich or poor, old or young.” Read more...
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“What I really liked about this novel is the way it describes an individual’s place in history. It’s not so much that Ghosh makes a judgement on whether we are agents or victims of history, but he explores the different ways in which individuals react to particular incidents, and how some manage to overcome adversity. The Glass Palace follows the life of the last Burmese king and his family. It begins shortly before the king was deposed and sent into exile by the British army.” Read more...
South Asian Literature