Opera plots can often strain credulity; Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, on the other hand, cuts close to the bone. The story—of an American naval officer who woos, marries and deserts a young Japanese girl—matters: it is a tightly-constructed narrative and attempts to reframe it, reposition it in another time or place, can be fraught.

This ultimately uplifting tale of perseverance in the face of love and loss begins in the suburbs of an unnamed city in contemporary South Korea. Tragedy strikes when the father of sisters Nana and Sora is killed in a factory accidents. The compensation money is sequestered by their relatives, forcing the now impoverished sisters and their mother, Aeja, out of their house and their former lives.

Many years ago, when I was about thirteen and home in Khartoum for the holidays from school in England, my mother took me on a train trip to Port Sudan, from where we drove to Suakin, an extensive deserted city on the Red Sea. Old Ottoman-style buildings lay scattered around us in ruinous states ranging from the almost intact to mere piles of bricks and stones. I was particularly struck, I remember, by the enclosed balconies which jutted out from the second floors of some of them, and remember wondering what the people who looked out from them might have been like. Why didn’t anyone live there any more? What happened to them?

Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)
Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)

Beyond Debt describes efforts to create a transnational economy free of debt. Based on research in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj illustrates how the state, led by the central bank, seeks to make Kuala Lumpur “the New York of the Muslim world”—the central node of global financial activity conducted in accordance with Islam.

“I think we are stuck in someone else’s movie,” says co-protagonist Chiara Brasi early on in Insurrecto, telegraphing the framing device for Gina Apostol’s new novel. Chiara, filmmaker, daughter of an artsy filmmaker, daughter of an heiress, golden-haired devotee of Hermès bags and sunglasses, has come to the Philippines to research a movie. She needs help, and finds Magsalin, a returned-expat Filipina writer and teacher.

The Indian Metamorphosis: Essays on Its Enlightenment, Education, and Society, Arup Maharatna (Palgrave, October 2018)
The Indian Metamorphosis: Essays on Its Enlightenment, Education, and Society, Arup Maharatna (Palgrave, October 2018)

This book examines various ideational, attitudinal and intellectual impasses that are becoming glaringly apparent on several fronts, and which have held back India’s balanced, steady and uniform development and transformation post-independence.

The first time I set foot in the war zone, a Ukrainian soldier chastely kissed my cheek before confiding he was excited to tell his mother that he had kissed a Frenchwoman. A few minutes later, just beside me, his fellow soldiers were perched on a tank, firing shots in the air to disperse residents who were opposed to their presence. The ringing from the shots caused me to lose hearing in one ear for a full 24 hours.