At first glance, Lawrence Osborne’s latest novel, On Java Road, seems to focus on the 2019 political climate in Hong Kong, but it soon becomes apparent that this serves more as a setting for what is a story of friendship, betrayal and, perhaps, redemption. The book, indeed, could possibly have been set at any time in Hong Kong’s modern history. The city has had its share of upheaval over the decades; Osborne’s story isn’t dependent on his choice of the most recent. He is a master of noir and it’s the atmosphere and place that are at the heart of this book.
Over the last decade or two, publishing has seen an increase in graphic novels and comics from Asian American writers and illustrators that addresses both contemporary and historical topics. Eleanor Ty has put together a collection of nine essays, including one of her own, in Beyond the Icon: Asian American Graphic Narratives, to demonstrate how these graphic novels and comics also tell a larger story than the ones depicted in their pages.
Scholar and professor Joseph Sassoon was never interested in his family’s history until he received a letter ten years ago from another Joseph Sassoon. The name is not common and, sure enough, this other Joseph was a very distant relative who had come across an article by Professor Sassoon about authoritarian regimes. The two spoke on the phone, which sparked interest in the family and led to Professor Sassoon’s new book, The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire, a story of a refugee family that reinvented itself in India, China, and ultimately the United Kingdom, and one that sometimes takes on biblical dimensions.
Although the Long March, the Communist Red Army’s year-long retreat in 1934 and 1935 to evade the Nationalist Army, is one of the most dramatic events of 20th-century Chinese history, it seems to have featured less as a setting for recent novels than the Cultural Revolution.
When journalist Erika Hayasaki was participating in a science journalism fellowship in 2016, she had recently given birth to identical twin sons. Her experience as the mother of twins informed her interest in researching the way one’s environment interacts with one’s genes. Soon she was interviewing sets of twins and was introduced to sisters, Ha and Isabella, teenagers who as infants were adopted in Vietnam. In her new book, Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family, Hayasaki examines Ha’s and Isabella’s separation as infants and their later reunification, and whether their genes or environment played a stronger role in shaping their personalities.
The prominent Afghan-American writer Jamil Jan Kochai, author of 99 Nights in Logar, is also well-known for his stories published in magazines and journals like The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Zoetrope. Now some of these have been compiled in The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories, bringing them and others together in one collection. Kochai’s writing is graceful all while tackling subjects like war and occupation and how families suffer from them, both in Afghanistan and overseas.
In Larissa Lai’s new novel, The Lost Century, elderly Violet Mah wonders, “Why is it that the grandchild most distant from the history is the one most interested in it?” It is this question that frames Lai’s story set in Hong Kong just before and during the Japanese occupation. This question is also the basis of another new novel, Nancy Lam’s debut, The Loyal Daughter, which takes place in southern China, Hong Kong, and Ontario.