A new quarterly literary magazine being launched today at the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival is set to publish features, reviews, poetry and prose for and about the six countries through which the Mekong River flows.
Editor and publisher Minh Bui Jones this week said The Mekong Review would differentiate itself on Southeast Asia’s crowded newsstand of English-language publications by resisting the ebb and flow of current affairs.
“We have more focus on literature. We’re more focused on quality writing, and we are a quarterly, therefore we take a bit longer to produce, to commission, to edit, to sub and to lay out. And in particular, we’re not topical.
Other magazines of a current affairs ilk peg their stories on news and events. We don’t.”
The launch issue of the print-only, tabloid-size magazine opens with a prickly review of The Idealist, UK historian Niall Ferguson’s biography of former US national security advisor Henry Kissinger, from Mario Del Pero, a professor of international history at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencesPo).
“We lead the issue with that piece because it’s an important book written by a notable writer about a notable person [who had a big impact on the region], and reviewed by a notable expert in the field,” said Bui Jones.
Another of the highlights is an extract from a novella, l’Anarchiste, written in French by the Cambodian novelist Soth Polin in the 1970s and recently translated into English for the first time by Australian academic Penny Edwards.
Bui Jones described it as “a bit of a coup”.
“[Edwards] has given us a first taste of what it’s like,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of fiction. For me, this piece is really important because I want so much for Cambodians to read it and be inspired by it, hopefully, to write, so that later on we can also publish them as well.”
Bui Jones, a journalist who co-founded The Diplomat magazine, among others, is self-funding the Mekong Review and is realistic about its potential for success.
“If there’s a demand for it, it will survive,” he said. “If there isn’t, it will sink, like 99 per cent of magazines. I have no illusions that this is going to succeed. So I’ll be very surprised [if it does].
“That said, I’ve been in the business for a long time now, I have a string of failures to my name and also a string of success. I hope this will be in the latter category.
“But ask me in six months. I should have a better idea then.”
The Mekong Review is available at the KRWF. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a copy. It will be distributed via Monument Books outlets from the second issue.