It’s perhaps best to start by noting that the title of Xin Wen’s new study, The King’s Road: Diplomacy and the Remaking of the Silk Road, is considerably more expansive than the book itself, which restricts itself to the late first millennium (ca 850-1000 CE) and is centered on Dunhuang; Khotan is as far as west as it goes. The book’s tight focus is however fortuitous, for it allows Xin Wen to go into illuminating—and very readable—detail.

Phoolan Devi was an Indian parliamentarian in the 1990s, but only after she achieved fame for becoming a modern day Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. She also, perhaps more importantly, sought revenge on the many men who sexually assaulted her, before and after she was married off at the age of eleven. She became known as the Bandit Queen and was assassinated at the young age of thirty-seven. Devi serves as a source of strength for the main character in Parini Shroff’s debut novel, The Bandit Queens, a dark yet uplifting story of village women who fight domestic violence and caste discrimination. 

 Plato Goes to China: The Greek Classics and Chinese Nationalism, Shadi Bartsch (Princeton University Press, March 2023)
Plato Goes to China: The Greek Classics and Chinese Nationalism, Shadi Bartsch (Princeton University Press, March 2023)

As improbable as it may sound, an illuminating way to understand today’s China and how it views the West is to look at the astonishing ways Chinese intellectuals are interpreting—or is it misinterpreting?—the Greek classics. In Plato Goes to China, Shadi Bartsch offers a provocative look at Chinese politics and ideology by exploring Chinese readings of Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and other ancient writers. She shows how Chinese thinkers have dramatically recast the Greek classics to support China’s political agenda, diagnose the ills of the West, and assert the superiority of China’s own Confucian classical tradition.

When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, nice Indian girls did not sing in public. Female musical performances were restricted to tawaifs, of a slightly sulfurous reputation, during soirées frequented by cultivated male patrons. If the tawaif wound up getting married, the husband almost invariably required his bride to abandon her art. Men, on the other hand, had for centuries been honored as musicians, patronized by padishahs and maharajas. Their craft was handed down from father to son, and still is today.

Food journalist Angela Hui grew up in rural Wales, as daughter to the owners of the Lucky Star Chinese takeaway. Angela grew up behind the counter, helping take orders and serve customers, while also trying to find her place in this small Welsh town. In her new memoir, Takeaway: Stories from a Childhood behind the Counter, she writes about the surprisingly central role the takeaway plays in rural Britain.