Asia Literary Review Various Print Work HK$99 Now is the season of sand and sun, of bodice-ripping romances, cold war thrillers and buckets of beer. So think twice before you take the heady summer 2009 issue of the Asia Literary Review - the revamped quarterly set to become the Granta of the East - to the beach. Cranky housewives; half-starved political prisoners; a sadistic nanny: this is sterner stuff, all grey skies and even greyer lives. The first offering, by Singaporean writer Kim Cheng Boey, sets the tone for this, issue 12. The brief but poignant Elgar and the Watch My Father Gave Me is a 'farewell to the old world' of Singapore, an evocative au revoir to Edwardian architecture and Kim's 'now debtless and dead' father, who for Kim's 16th birthday ('the last happy day' he had with him) had resurfaced and bought him a Titoni watch and a copy of the 1932 HMV Elgar Violin Concerto, only to disappear again. The precarious balance between old and new, between family and tradition on the one hand and individual hopes and desires on the other, tends to dominate (some might say suffocate) most Asian fiction, often crystallised in the debate between arranged versus 'love' marriages. This issue of ALR - 228 pages of poems and short stories, an interview with Asia hand Ian Buruma and a series of photographs of Inner Mongolian nomads by Seoul-based artist and curator Jesse Chun - is no different. This issue covers an admirably wide swathe of Asian geography and experience, through the voices of the relatively unknown (Uma Anyar) and the well-established (Eugenia Kim). An excerpt from South Korean author Hwang Sok-yong's forthcoming novel The Old Garden is the real stand-out, a psychologically terrifying, Dostoevsky-like number. Marshall Moore's excellent, surrealistic story Marble Forest, Karstic Heart, about a Hong Kong art conservator who meets an insomniac youngster from a rich yet cursed Chinese family on a flight from Dubai to Hong Kong, is the only piece to break free authentically from conventional narrative realism. But still, there is no shortage of outspoken, daring free-speech experimentation to prove the ALR's freshness and vitality and to keep you flipping pages. The narrator of Chartvut Bunyarak's enjoyably disparaging Taxis 2006 is thrown out of a cab in Bangkok when his mobile ring-tone ('Thaaaaaaaksin get out!') offends the driver. He lobs a rock at the cab, which lands him in court, where he defends himself as an apolitical nonentity who has never even voted: 'Why should I? No matter how you vote, all you get every single time is a bunch of cheats wallowing in the trough under the guise of administering the country.' Think about that while tanning in Phuket.