Written in Black

READ THE WORLD – Brunei: Written in Black by K.H. Lim

A snapshot of a few days in the life of ten-year-old Jonathan Lee, attending the funeral of his Ah Kong, or grandfather, and still reeling from the drama of his mother leaving for Australia and his older brother getting kicked out of the house and joining a rock band. Annoyed at being the brunt of his father’s pent-up anger, Jonathan escapes his grandfather’s wake in an empty coffin and embarks on a journey through the backwaters of Brunei to bring his disowned brother back for the funeral and to learn the truth about his absent mother.

Jonathan as a character could be equal parts interesting and infuriating at times. I do tend to struggle reading books from a child’s point of view and with Jonathan he seemed far more confident and surer of himself than the average ten-year-old. He does make brash decisions and argues with his siblings and cousin like any child would but sometimes he came across as older than his years with his ability to talk himself out of (and into) a lot of situations. Then there’s the times when he just seems incredibly bitter about everything he’s got going on in life. Some of it seems like a fair thing to be bitter about like how his father won’t talk about his mother and how he keeps missing her phone calls. Other time’s though it’s like that fatalistic attitude that teenagers have turned up to the max – I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such a dramatic ten-year-old.

The adventure Jonathan goes on to find his older brother who might hold the key to be able to contact their mother is fun one. Just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong but Jonathan never stops trying to achieve his goal. He’s got this single-minded determinedness that’s impressive.

As an atheist (though I was christened a Catholic) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the descriptions of Ah Kong’s funeral and the various traditions that Jonathan and the rest of the family had to take part in. The funeral is a Chinese one and there’s mentions of another character having been to Malay funerals but not Chinese ones, showing how there’s different tradition in each cultures funeral and that Brunei as a country is a mix of different people with different heritages, which was interesting.

Written in Black is a quick and easy book to read with an engaging story that keeps you turning the page. The plotline about Jonathan’s absent mother isn’t really given a satisfactory resolution though – or much of a resolution to be honest. In some ways it feels like his mother is avoiding him rather than his three other siblings and it’s sad there’s never really an explanation for that or anything to show that she cares about Jonathan just as much as her other children. Besides from that, it’s a fast-paced and decent coming of age story and Jonathan certainly does seem to mature a lot in such a short space of time. 3/5.

Asian Readathon 2022 TBR

In May in the United States, it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and in honour of that Cindy from WithCindy on YouTube created a readathon where the main aim is to read books by Asian authors. Her announcement video explains it all really well and she also has a Google Doc with extra info and resources and there’s a Twitter account for the readathon too.

This year’s challenge is loosely themed around the film Everything Everywhere All At Once (which I can’t wait to see) and is meant to be easy, accessible, and open to interpretation. The reading challenges are:

– Read a book written by an Asian author.
– Read a book featuring an Asian character who is a woman and/or older.
– Read a book by an Asian author that has a universe you would want to experience or a universe that is totally different from yours.
– Read a book by an Asian author that has a cover worthy of googly eyes (aka a gorgeous cover).
– Read a book by an Asian author that has a high rating OR was highly recommended.

These challenges can be combined if you want to make it even easier! There is a twist though. You can combine challenges and read in any order; however, each book you read should feature a character or author of a different Asian ethnicity. This is to encourage cultural diversity. I’ve made a note of each authors nationality/identity as is available online.

Read a book written by an Asian author (though any of these books meet that challenge)

QuixotiQ by Ali Al Saeed (Bahraini)
This is a book I’ve already started once but struggled a bit with but as it’s less than 200 pages I know I can get through it if I just knuckle down and focus on it.

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian (Armenian)
A memoir about Grigoris Balakian’s eyewitness account of the Armenian Genocide which happened from 1915-1918.

Written in Black by K.H. Lim (Bruneian)
A coming-of-age novel offering a snapshot of a few days in the life of ten-year-old Jonathan Lee, attending the funeral of his grandfather, and still reeling from the drama of his mother leaving for Australia and his brother getting kicked out of the house and joining a rock band. I got the ebook of this for cheap recently so it’d be good to read it this month.

Read a book featuring an Asian character who is a woman and/or older (most of these books have female leads though)

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Sawad Hussain (Kuwaiti)
Three friends who share neither ethnic origin nor religious denomination, get involved in a protest group and one of their grandmothers, Mama Hissa, warns them against it. This is another ebook.

Read a book by an Asian author that has a universe you would want to experience or a universe that is totally different from yours (a few of these books can fit this challenge)

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Chinese-Canadian)
While the societal aspects of Iron Widow don’t sound great, the world of giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall sounds very cool. Plus, it’s been a wile since I’ve read a sci-fi novel.

Read a book by an Asian author that has a cover worthy of googly eyes

The Cabinet by Un Su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert (South Korean)
This is one of the books from the 12 Books Recommended by 12 Friends Challenge and I have the audiobook. It sounds like a bit of a weird story and I love the cover.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (Japanese)
These two are some of the most gorgeous books I own. This is a YA duology about a girl who discovers she can talk to the huge, magical beasts of her world and becomes entangled in politics and war as she tries to keep herself and the beasts safe.

Read a book by an Asian author that has a high rating OR was highly recommended

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Chinese-American) and She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Chinese-Australian)
I’ve heard nothing but good things about both of these books. They’re both fantasy books that are inspired by Chinese history and it’s been a while since I’ve read an historical fantasy epic.

Are you taking part in the Asian Readathon? Or do you have any books by Asian authors on your TBR in general? I would love to hear about them.