Set in rural China during the 1970s, Ruyan Meng’s debut novel Only the Cat Knows is told from the point of view of a young factory worker married to a woman who stays home with their three children, two of whom suffer from ramifications of malnutrition. His wife could in theory work, but their sickly children need much attention and there’s no one else to care for them. The narrator’s salary falls short of monthly expenses for medication and food. Under no illusions that life is fair, he nonetheless sees others in his factory receive paychecks with bonuses and raises.
With climate change and environmental conservation on many minds these days, it’s only fitting that the late Manindra Gupta’s 2016 short novel, Pebblemonkey, told from the point of view of an adventurous monkey, has recently been translated into English by Arunava Sinha. The story takes on magical realism and weaves it into a cautionary tale about humans who exploit nature and think nothing of it.
Set in a five Colombo beach resort in times more tranquil than Sri Lanka’s turbulent present, Amanda Jayatissa’s new novel, You’re Invited, begins when a young woman named Amaya notices dried blood under her fingernails and bruises on her knuckles just before her former best friend Kaavi weds Amaya’s ex-boyfriend, Spencer. Moments later, Amaya hears a knock on the door. Kaavi is missing and a search for her is underway. The mystery may appear solved before the story begins, but there are plenty and twists and turns to come. For the first two-thirds of the book, the chapters finish with an investigator’s interview with a member of the bride’s family or one of the guests. This structure gives voice to more than just the main characters and after each interview there seems to be another possible suspect in Kaavi’s disappearance.
In middle grade novels, the main characters are typically concerned about making friends, fitting in at school, and, in recent years, adapting to new cultures. But with Varsha Bajaj’s new novel, Thirst, the main character, Minni, has a life-and-death situation on her hands: Mumbai’s water supply. As the title implies, water is scarce for Minni’s family and their neighbors in the poorest areas of the city.
Satya Vyas’s 2015 bestselling campus novel Banaras Talkies—telling the stories of three undergraduate friends who have just started law school—has recently been translated into English by Himadri Agarwal and is full of humor, wit, and undergraduate antics.
Hong Kong figures both as an early childhood memory and sometimes as a what-if question in Dorothy Chan’s latest poetry collection Babe. What if Chan’s parents had stayed and didn’t take the family to the United States, where Chan was born? What if Chan could grow up with a grandmother who was always around rather than someone she saw just on visits across the ocean?
We are used to novels by expats written in the language of home and then occasionally translated back, sometimes as a curiosity, into the language of the place where the work is set. But the expats are usually Western and the language English. Xue Yiwei’s Celia, Misoka, I, translated from Chinese by Stephen Nashef, is a rare example of this process operated from the other side of the mirror.