Behind the Mekong Review
Today we sit down with Minh Bui Jones; writer, editor and founder of the Mekong Review - however, this is not the first magazine he has founded. It is the fifth. So, why did he feel it was so important to create a magazine that, in his own words, functions as a 'cross-border connection in a region that lacks a sense of a shared historical narrative'?
MINH: As a geographical concept, Southeast Asia is a group of countries in search of a common identity. The mainland is separated from the islands and each of the countries is separated from one another by language, religion and political systems. At the same time, there is a shared history: of Chinese and Indian penetration, of Western colonialism and the struggle for independence, of the Pacific War, the Cold war and, more recently, of the economic and political resurgence of China. This shared narrative, so abundant and well-told in Western European history, is missing from our pages.
What in particular inspired you to start up the Mekong Review?
MINH: The Mekong Review was inspired by my time living in Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia, where I spent nearly seven years. I became very fond of the people, their way of life and their history. As I was about to leave the country (to return to my homeland Australia), I wanted to maintain this love affair and thus the Mekong Review was born. It grew quickly, expanding to Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and, more recently, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
What is it that you look for in the works you publish?
MINH: I look for clear writing, that is, good writing. I also look for substance. For me, an article is worthwhile if it has something new and interesting to say. Style or beauty is important, but of secondary importance. For all that quibble, though, I’m happy to get whatever comes my way.
We find it very interesting that the magazine includes both literary art and more academic pieces. Is there a reason that the magazine doesn't choose between focusing on either one or the other?
MINH: Mekong Review is a reflection of who I am and my reading tastes. I read everything: from newspaper reports to academic theses, from poetry to fiction, from book to music reviews. That’s why you see a diversity of subject matters and writing styles.
What is your vision for the future of the magazine?
MINH: I have two visions, one’s short- and other is long-term. The former is simple survival. Publishing a literary magazine without any financial support is a tough gig, so all my energy is devoted to keeping us going for as long as possible. In the long run, if we were able to keep going for, say, a decade, I hope we could become a cultural institution in Asia, in the same way the New York or the London Review of Books are cultural institutions for North America and Europe respectively.