For business travelers, making sure to bring a good book along on a trip can be a blessing: it can help pass the time in terminals, in hotels, and on flights that seem to have no end. At the same time, a good novel allows us to escape into a whole new world, leaving our own pressures behind temporarily and returning to them relaxed and with a different perspective.
But literature can do even more: it offers a privileged window into a culture, how it thinks and feels, what it dreads and dreams. Indeed, the greatest works of poetry and prose etch themselves into our memory, becoming as much a part of us as the author that gave birth to them. And if your goal is doing business in Asia, having greater insight into what makes a culture tick can be both instructive and advantageous.
So on your next trip to Asia, why not pick up a work of Asian fiction? The following is a guide to a trio of writers that you should not do without on your next long-haul flight over the Pacific.
Author of a string of bestsellers that have been translated into over 50 languages, Japan’s Haruki Marukami is arguably the most well-known contemporary Asian writer—and for good reason. Murakami’s worlds effortlessly span both the natural and supernatural realms, from the magical worlds of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the three-volume 1Q84 to the more realistic tableaus of South of the Border and Sputnik Sweetheart.
His deceptively simple style masks an astounding philosophical breadth and imaginative depth. As an added bonus, in a Murakami novel, you are almost sure to find an emblematic piece of music: the Beatles, of course, in Norwegian Wood, and, in his latest novel, Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” And if there’s something about Asia you still don’t understand, Murakami periodically answers questions from readers at his online advice column, “Mr. Murakami’s Place.”
We recommend: Kafka on the Shore
Ayu Utami’s 1998 novel, Saman, not only marked the author’s literary debut, but it also ushered in a whole new literary phenomenon in Indonesia. The controversially dubbed sastri mangi or “fragrant literature” movement features women writing about the famous trio of taboo topics—politics, sex and religion—in a way that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Saman, a portrait of liberated women during the final years of the Suharto regime, was followed by a sequel, Laman, in 2001. Utami also made her screenwriting debut in the 2009 film, Ruma Maida, or “Maida’s House,” about a school for street children in Jakarta threatened with demolition. An activist once blacklisted for her journalistic work, Utami has been a tireless campaigner for freedom of speech and women’s rights. As Asia’s social fabric undergoes rapid change, an Ayu Utami novel helps us keep up to date with what’s going on.
We recommend: Saman
Su Tong first came to Western attention in the early 1990s when his trio of novellas, Wives and Concubines--an unsparing look at the concubine system of 1930s China—was made into the critically acclaimed movie Raise the Red Lantern by director Zhang Yamou. Not content to rest on his literary laurels, Tong went on to become a leading light of China’s avant-garde, known for a stylistic and linguistic experimentation that left behind the social realism of previous generations.
His meaty 2009 novel, The Boat to Redemption, a father-son political fable set during the Cultural Revolution, won the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. Says writer Rick Gekoski, “Su is a master of implication, and a careful reading of his work reveals more about the state of modern China than many much more explicit (usually expatriate) Chinese writers.” Consider it ‘insider information’ – but of the legal kind.
We recommend: The Vagrants
A Wealth of Reading
These and many more unforgettable titles of Asian literature await you at your bookstore or online bookseller. So crack open a book or turn on your e-reader in-flight and get to know more about the cultures in which you are or will be doing business. At the very least, you will have something more to talk about with your hosts in the conference room or at the dinner table.
In this special “Business Well Travelled” series, Cathay Pacific explores a number of ways to make the most of your time on the road. Discover what #lifewelltravelled means to other business travelers, share your own memorable experiences, and learn about how Cathay Pacific makes business travel more enjoyable.