When psychedelic rock music came to Southeast Asia via American GIs during the Vietnam War, it greatly influenced the music scene in Cambodia. Cambodian Rock Band, a new play running in Chicago through May 12 celebrates this resulting music that not only abruptly went away in 1975, but for the most part hasn’t been performed since then. Playwright Lauren Yee centers her story around the interaction of fictional band called The Cyclos with the very real person who directed the terror of the Tuol Sleng torture center, a former school that was converted in a prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Only seven people survived Tuol Sleng.
Despite the not-entirely-rare memoirs, novels, and narratives about Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II, it remains a little-known corner of history. Juliet Conlin’s new novel tells a story of two of them.
For decades, the Hong Kong Police has been known as “Asia’s finest”. Before the handover, the Royal Hong Kong Police (RHKP) helped Hong Kong become one of the safest cities in the world. But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the mid-1970s, corruption had become so serious that after several failed attempts, Hong Kong finally found a way to clean up the police force with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The police force didn’t just suddenly change overnight, as Nigel Collett shows in his new history book, A Death in Hong Kong.
The daughter of a Jewish Azerbaijani father and a Russian mother, Sophia Shalmiyev grew up in 1980s Leningrad hearing her grandmother recite anti-Semitic jingles, ruffling Sophia’s hair as if this act of act of affection could erase the sting of her words.
Expat memoirs set in a plane-ride away in Asia have, well, taken off. Some, like Peter Hessler’s River Town, Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing, and Michael Levy’s Kosher Chinese, are written by former Peace Corps volunteers. Others like Rachel DeWoskin’s Foreign Babes in Beijing and Susan Jane Gilman’s Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven address the sometimes harrowing experiences of American women in China. And Tracy Slater’s The Good Shufu and Lisa Fineberg Cook’s unfortunately-titled Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me relay family struggles when these American writers follow their husbands to Japan.
Film can tell a lot about a place and time, but not many film industries have gone through as much change as China’s. Not only has the Chinese film industry transformed as the politics of the country have changed from the years of silent movies to the Communist era, but records of the pre-Mao era largely succumbed to political movements like the Cultural Revolution, which outlawed everything old and western. It’s a miracle that film advertisements and movie magazines from the period survived at all, and in his new book, film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff presents a stunning collection of 590 illustrations, mainly movie magazine covers, that he found in Hong Kong and in flea markets around Southeast Asia.
The author and journalist Xinran has written a number of non-fiction books about women in contemporary China, but in her latest book she goes back in time to examine the changes in love and marriage since the Republican era. Much has been written about political, social, and economic changes in China since before the 1949, but few authors apart from Lynn Pan—who explored the common notion that love originated in the West before it arrived in China—have taken an intimate look the Chinese women’s private lives spanning four generations.