From her early interest in Russia’s hinterlands to her recent focus on the culture and places of Japan, German poet and novelist Marion Poschmann’s writing continues its eastward drift. Her latest novel (and first in English thanks to Jen Calleja’s translation) The Pine Islands, which recounts the tragic-comic journey of a middle-aged German university professor who decamps to Japan (he dreams that his wife is cheating on him) and undertakes a Bashō-inspired journey once there, has been shortlisted for the German Book Prize (2017) and Man Booker International Prize (2019) and hailed as a “masterpiece” by Germany’s esteemed newspaper Die Zeit.
With her sinuously taut sculpture “The Arch of Hysteria” (1993), French artist Louise Bourgeois addressed deep-seated Western cultural associations between women, hysteria, and sexual dysfunction. Drawing on the ideas of 19th-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, under whom Freud had studied and whose ideas enjoyed a great deal of currency among many Surrealist artists years later, Bourgeois re-fashioned what had become a prototypical image of the hysterical woman in the Western imagination, writhing and with arched back, into a headless, genital-less, bronze male body suspended by a wire. It is a potent visual metaphor and the subversiveness of Bougeois’s gesture laid the groundwork for subsequent artistic re-evaluations of this specious aspect of European cultural history.
With its unvarnished look at infidelity, drug addiction, war, and fractured families in mid-20th century China along with a jarringly abrupt non-linear narrative and burly eight-page character list, Eileen Chang’s final novel Little Reunions is a difficult read.
Reviewing a book that has been banned in its author’s native country presents certain challenges as well as certain obligations as in the case of celebrated Chinese novelist Yan Lianke’s The Day the Sun Died, his latest book to appear in English translation (the Chinese original was published in 2015). In his translator’s introduction, Carlos Rojas sees in Joyce’s Ulysses a literary antecedent to Yan’s novel based on their contested reception histories, shared thematic content, and similar narrative strategies.
Opera travels well. Its stories are the stories of our collective humanity—love, loss, revenge, strife, rebellion, rejuvenation, absurdity, tragedy—and its archetypes not only define cultures but also connect them. In many respects, we can no longer speak in essentializing ways about Western opera or Chinese opera, but rather must address the world of opera and global operatic voices.
Approximately 180km east of the Middle Kingdom sits an island state commonly referred to as “The Bicycle Kingdom”. If you live in Japan, Europe, or North America and own a bicycle, there is a good chance that a number of its parts were manufactured in Taiwan. From ultra-light carbon fibre frames and the latest electric, smart and green technologies to various bike components ranging from tires, pedals, chains, saddles, grips, and even bike carriers for vehicles, Taiwan’s bicycle industry remains a global leader despite recent declines in exports and sales.
In one nightmarish vignette from his 1990 film Dreams the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa imagines how life might look and feel following a nuclear meltdown in Japan. With the breach of six nuclear reactors, Japan’s residents flee to the sea, where most of them eventually drown, leaving a handful of humans amidst a radioactive landscape of blackened earth and sky. The only other living organisms are immense mutant dandelions, whose weighty yellow flower heads tower over the human figures. Twenty-one years later, the imagined world of nuclear disaster became reality when the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident.