On identity beyond ethnicity, cont’d: “There is no such thing as Asian literature”

Kenan Malik (whose book Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate I am currently reading) continues to challenge the notion of identity bounded by ethnic or geographic categories:

What are my five favourite Asian books of the past decade? That’s what organizers are asking those taking part in this year’s Festival of Asian Literature. They are hoping to compile ‘The 50 Best Books of the Century of Asia’. Nothing, perhaps, reveals more the artificial nature of ‘Asian’ as a category than thinking about such a list. Any book that is ‘focused on Asia or Asians, written by an Asian, non-Asian, or from the Asian diaspora’ is eligible for the Festival list. But what is it that connects, say, Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, Khandahar Cockney by James Fergusson and John Keay’s History of India? Or Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, Tahmima Anam’s The Golden Age and Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore? Should Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis find a place in such a list? Or Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red? What about VS Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain? It seems bizarre to describe it as an ‘Asian book’ but is it any less Asian than, say, Hari Kunzuru’s My Revolutions?

The idea of ‘Asian literature’ raises all the old questions about what constitutes the ‘East’ and how it is imagined.

Nevertheless, he recommends some books anyway. More titles for my groaning “to-read” shelf…

(My other posts on identity and ethnicity here.)

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