SOAS University of London

South East Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

English Literatures of South East Asia

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module will look at writing in English about South East Asia and written by South East Asians.  It will explore issues such as diasporic identity, exile and belonging, linguistic choice and multilingualism, race, communal politics and hybridity.  The often liminal relationship of writing in English to national canons will be a recurring theme, as will the question of the orientation of writing in English towards a readership within and/or beyond the writers’ countries of origin. Particular emphasis will be placed on the strategies employed by South East Asian writers in English in response to the often uncongenial environments in which they work. The texts studied encompass poetry, plays, short stories and novels, from Singapore, Malaysia, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand, including such writers as Wong Phui Nam, Alfian Sa'at, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Wendy Law-Yone, Nam Le, Lan Cao, Stella Kon and Lloyd Fernando.  The course features guest lectures from practicing writers, providing students with a uniquely rewarding opportunity to understand what it means to write in English from South East Asia.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • demonstrate in-depth understanding of the place of English as a literary language in South East Asia and of the diverse responses of South East Asian writers in English to their particular contexts.
  • have developed enhanced critical reading skills, both in the close reading of literary texts and in assessing and applying theoretical analysis in secondary texts.
  • show improved writing skills, with an emphasis on using primary texts to support their arguments.
  • bring to bear greater experience in oral discussion of ideas in making constructive contributions to class discussions.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture, 1 hour tutorial and 2 hours film viewing.

Method of assessment

An essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (70%); 2 reaction papers, each of 600 words to be submitted directly to the course teacher in weeks throughout the term of teaching (30%).

Suggested reading

  • Cao, Lan.  Monkey Bridge.  New York: Penguin, 1998.
  • Fernando, Lloyd.  Green is the Colour.  Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2004.
  • Law-Yone, Wendy.  Irrawaddy Tango.  Evanston, Ill.:  Northwestern University Press, 2003.
  • Le, Nam.  The Boat.  Edinburgh: Canongate, 2008.
  • Patke, Rajeev S. and Holden, Philip.  The Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English.  Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.
  • Lapcharoensap, Rattawut.  Sightseeing.  London: Atlantic, 2005.
  • Sa’at, Alfian.  Collected Plays One.  Singapore: Ethos Books, 2010.
  • Kon, Stella.  Emily of Emerald Hill.  Singapore: Constellation Books, 2005.
  • Aw, Tash.  Map of the Invisible World.  London: Fourth Estate, 2010.
  • Wong Phui Nam.  Selections from Ways of Exile.  London: Skoob Books, 1993.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules