This November in New York has featured three different versions of the Madame Butterfly story on stage: the original at the Metropolitan Opera, a revival of the David Henry Hwang play M. Butterfly and a revival of the musical Miss Saigon. Of these, I managed Hwang and Puccini back-to-back.
For a number of logistic, commercial and territorial reasons, books rarely circulate much outside the market they were published in. Asian-published books can as a result often, regardless of merit, end up largely unknown outside a relatively small domestic market, something that goes in spades when the book was originally published in a language other than English.
Yeng Pway Ngon’s Unrest has a long journey. Originally published in Chinese, Unrest won the 2004 Singapore Literature Prize. It took the better part of a decade for the English translation to become available in an edition from Math Paper Press in 2012. This (according to a note on the legal page, evidently somewhat revised) edition is from Balestier Press and is, for the first time, generally available internationally.
World War II created its fair share of myths: on the American side, the “Flying Tigers”—a “small private air force that fought the Japanese over Burma and Western China”—became one of the first, providing as it did some of the few bright spots in the days after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to June 1942, the force which “rarely had more than forty airworthy planes” managed to take down almost 300 Japanese aircraft. A John Wayne movie came out as early as 1942.
Whether the casts for this week’s Aida are the best ever assembled for opera in Hong Kong—they have some competition from Hong Kong Arts Festival productions, including a Simon Boccanegra with Roberto Frontali, Michele Pertusi, Giorgio Berrugi and Erika Grimaldi, and a Traviata with Carmen Giannattasio and José Bros—is the sort of thing opera-goers love to debate. But these others have been traveling productions from overseas operas rather than something developed and produced by a local company.
Late Ming China didn’t have the “Nigerian advance-fee scam”, but if Zhang Yingyu’s contemporary The Book of Swindles is any indication, it had just about every other con ever tried. This collection of short cautionary tales is, according to translators Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, “said to be the first Chinese story collection focused explicitly on the topic of fraud.”
As contemporary Korean literature receives increasing acclaim in English-language circles—Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize—it is perhaps inevitable that efforts are being made to introduce older Korean classics to the English language mainstream. One of of these is Sweet Potato, a newly-translated volume of short stories by Kim Tongin (or Kim Dong-in) written mostly in the Japanese colonial period between the Wars.
Is poetry a potent enough protest to move the political needle? In other cultures—the Middle East comes to mind—poetry is fundamental. In a recent article in the BBC, somewhat controversially entitled “Why I became a jihadist poetry critic”, Elisabeth Kendall is quoted as “Anybody who’s spent time in the Middle East knows how important poetry is. Any tin-pot taxi driver in Cairo can recite poetry.” But in English, or in East Asia?