SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia

English Literatures of South East Asia

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1


There are no pre-requisites for this course and it is available as an open option to non-first year students.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students should be able to 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
  • enhanced critical reading skills, both in the close reading of literary texts and in assessing and applying theoretical analysis in secondary texts
  • improved writing skills, with an emphasis on using primary texts to support their arguments
  • greater experience in oral discussion of ideas and in making constructive contributions to class discussions


This course will be taught over 10 weeks with a 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar/tutorial classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The proposed course will look at writing in English about South East Asia and (for the most part) written by South East Asians.  It will explore issues such as diasporic identity, exile and belonging, linguistic choice, 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. Given personal connections between lecturers on this proposed course and some of the writers, we will attempt to organise writer’s visits or discussions between the students, potentially providing a uniquely rewarding opportunity.

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Malaysia: Language Politics.

Muhammad Haji Salleh, Wong Phui Nam, Lee Kok Liang (poetry)

Week 3: Malaysia: Race and Nation

Lloyd Fernando, Green is the Colour.

Week 4: Malaysia: Postcolonial, Postmodern.

Huzir Sulaiman, Atomic Jaya (play)

Week 5: Singapore: Hybridity

Stella Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill (play)/Alfian Sa’at (poetry)

Week 6: Burma

Wendy Law-Yone, Irrawaddy Tango.

Week 7: Vietnam

Nam Le, The Boat

Week 8: Vietnam

Lan Cao, Monkey Bridge

Week 9: Thailand

Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing (short stories)

Week 10: East Timor: Outsiders and Underdogs

Timothy Mo, The Redundancy of Courage.

Method of assessment

An essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1 in the term after the course is taught (50%); 5 reaction papers of 650 words each, due Weeks 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 (submission dates to be given by the convenor). (50%).  

Suggested reading

Primary texts:
  • Cao, Lan. Monkey bridge. New York: Penguin, 1998.
  • Fernando, Lloyd. Green is the colour. Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2004.
  • Huzir Sulaiman.  Eight plays.  Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2002.
  • Kon, Stella. Emily of Emerald Hill: a monodrama. London: Macmillan, 1989.
  • Lapcharoensap, Rattawut. Sightseeing. London: Atlantic, 2005.
  • Law-Yone, Wendy. Irrawaddy tango. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2003.
  • Le, Nam. The boat. Edinburgh: Cannongate, 2008.
  • Lee Kok Liang. Flowers in the sky. Kuala Lumpur: Heineman Asia, 1981.
  • Mo, Timothy. The redundancy of courage.  Paddleless Press, 2002.
  • Muhammad Haji Salleh. Rowing down two rivers. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2000.
  • Sa’at, Alfian. A history of amnesia: poems. Singapore: Ethos Books, 2001.
  • Wong Phui Nam. How the hills are distant: poems from the first decade. London: Skoob Publishing, 1993.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules