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.
Power corrupts, so the saying goes. Award-winning author Li Peifu suggests there is more to it than that in his novel A Man of the Plains, now translated into English by James Trapp and retitled Graft.
Osamu Dazai is one of Japan’s most celebrated modern writers. He was born in 1909, at the end of Japan’s era of rapid modernization known as the Meiji Period. He began writing as a high school student, moved by the suicide of the great Japanese short story writer, Ryonosuke Akutagawa in 1927.
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.
Island of Bewilderment is a recent English translation of Jazire-ye Sargardāni, a historical novel by the late Simin Daneshvar, originally in Persian and published in 1992. Daneshvar (1921- 2012) was considered Iran’s first female novelist. Her books were about the lives of ordinary people, especially women, through the lens of political and social events in the country. She was also a renowned translator and counted Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard among her translations into Persian. She was the wife of the famous social critic and writer, Jalal Ale-Ahmad, also a writer of acclaim.
It helps to be reminded from time to time that literature, all other objectives aside, is at bottom storytelling. And Turkish Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel Nights of Plague is storytelling so luxuriant that one cannot help but soak in it.
Set in a disturbing dystopia, Saha, Korean author Cho Nam-joo’s latest work following the wildly successful Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, tells the story of the bottom rung of a dark society.