Academic journal article ARIEL

Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women's Writing

Academic journal article ARIEL

Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women's Writing

Article excerpt

Speaking for Myself: An Anthology of Asian Women's Writing. Edited by Malashri Lai and Sukrita Paul Kumar. Foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2009. 584 pp. Pb. Rs.650, C$ 20.

The India International Centre at Delhi, a nonprofit and autonomous nongovernment body, was founded almost fifty years ago. In its charter, the LLC. declares its purpose as "promoting understanding and amity between the different communities of the world by undertaking or supporting the study of their past and present cultures, by disseminating or enhancing knowledge thereof and by providing such other facilities as would lead to their universal application." The LLC. launched the I.I.C.-Asia Project in the nineteennineties for reviving and strengthening the historic, cultural and intellectual linkages among the countries of Asia. Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, the Chairman of the LLC, invited Professor Malashri Lai and Professor Sukrita Paul Kumar to compile an anthology of Asian women's writing. Ihe editors have mentioned the difficulties they faced in this endeavour. Bookstores and libraries in Asia are poor in literature from Asian countries. They had to turn to the West to locate translators and source material. Also, there are few direct translations from one Asian language to another. It is ironic that this anthology is in English, the language of the colonizer of many Asian countries. The editors have pointed out the loss that translation entails, but it is outweighed by the benefits of presenting texts from so many languages in a single volume.

The anthology contains 74 pieces from 34 countries, from Japan in the east to Israel, Lebanon and Palestine in the west, from Mongolia and Russia in the north to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines in the south. The anthology is divided into five sections: East Asia (including Macau, Taiwan and Tibet), South-East Asia (with eight countries, including Cambodia and Myanmar), South Asia (the longest section, with 22 pieces), Central Asia and Russia, and West Asia. Fhere are 42 prose pieces, but just one play, perhaps because of lack of available translations, and also, I suspect, because of the problem of extracting a meaningful short excerpt from a full-length play. Almost all the prose pieces are translated, but many of the poems (16 out of 31) are originally written in English.

This pioneering anthology challenges the stereotypical image of Asian women as passive and submissive. Though the social, economic and cultural background differs from country to country, the writing reflects many common concerns--motherhood and the task of nurturing children, unequal gender relations, and the common struggles a single woman faces. The short story from Russia, Maria Arbatovas "I Am Called a Woman," recounts the horrifying experiences of a young girl delivering twins; she is a student of philosophy and just nineteen years old. She receives little care or love at the crowded Institute of Gynaecology. The story ends on a sad note: "For in our world being a woman is not a respectable thing, even at that moment, when a woman does that one single job, which the man is simply not capable of doing" (474).

Many of the pieces in the anthology show women fighting against gender discrimination-Heng SiokTians "Journal Week" from Singapore is a poem in seven parts. It begins with images of deprivation: "I crammed / into hand-me-down shoes / learning to stride graceful / with big Hat feet, / taking light dainty steps / with bones crushed by foot-binding" (278). However, Section VI declares: "I decide: / not to live / in a fairy-tale castle / awaiting rescue, / witness the unsung tragedies of / heroines, maids, beaten wives, / see myself in my sisters / equally born / of sinful apples" (279). …

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