Eluding Censors, a Magazine Covers Southeast Asia’s Literary Scene

Eluding Censors, a Magazine Covers Southeast Asia’s Literary Scene


For its fall issue, Mekong Review expanded its editorial focus beyond mainland Southeast Asia — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam — to include Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It also switched to a printer in George Town, a former British colonial outpost in the Malaysian state of Penang, from one on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The switch has further complicated delivery logistics. “Now we have the South China Sea to contend with,” Mr. Jones said with a chuckle.

But the magazine punches above its weight: Its contributors include some of the best-known authors, journalists and academics who follow the region, including Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and Emma Larkin, the pseudonym for a Bangkok-based American writer who has published several nonfiction books on Myanmar.

Ms. Larkin said that Mekong Review avoids the “easy clichés through which the West views Southeast Asia and offers instead a rich, in-depth and nuanced portrait of the region.”

Mekong Review is unique in part because it serves as a bridge between the academic world and Southeast Asia’s literary scene, said Judith Henchy, the head of the Southeast Asia section at the University of Washington Libraries in Seattle. “It’s an attempt at a kind of regional cosmopolitan voice,” she added.

The magazine’s reviews have covered books about Khmer history, Asian street-food culture, the Thai monarchy, ethnic-minority communities and much else. The spring issue included a translated excerpt from “Crossroads and Lampposts,” a 1960s novel by Tran Dan, a Vietnamese writer whose works were banned in Vietnam for decades.

Other articles take deep looks at local news. The fall issue includes “Facing the End,” a diary of The Cambodia Daily’s last days by Jodie DeJonge, the newspaper’s last editor in chief, and a Q.&A. in which the blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen criticizes Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party and describes what he says is repression by its secret police.

Mr. Jones said he struggled with that Q.& A. because he worried that the Vietnamese authorities might punish Mr. Tuyen for making such provocative comments. But he decided to publish anyway, he said, because he felt that it highlighted an important human rights issue.

“I anticipate a lot more repression in the days ahead” in Vietnam, he said.

Mr. Jones, 48, whose family fled to Australia from Vietnam in 1978, said in a Skype interview that he began his journalism career as a researcher and producer for SBS, an Australian public broadcaster, and then worked as a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald. He later founded or co-founded four magazines that focused on current affairs in Asia, including The Diplomat, which went digital after he left in 2005.

He joked that he was a “serial offender” for publishing so many print magazines in such a digital era. “There is something, for me anyway, rather magisterial about this tactile form,” he said from his home office.

“And, also, everyone told me that it’s impossible to make money on the internet,” he added. He wore black-rimmed glasses and a Cambodian scarf that brushed against his salt-and-pepper beard.



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