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.
The themes of The Earth Spinner are elemental, from passion’s fire to the destructive power of the monsoon. Fire, water, and of course, earth are at the core of Anuradha Roy’s novel. Shaped when wet and fired in a kiln, earth stands for the inexorable drive to human creativity.
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.
Dung Kai-cheung’s A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On is an exercise in the influence of late-90s, mainly Japanese, popular culture on young women in end-of-the-century Hong Kong. The “catalog” consists of ninety-nine sketches, perhaps in an homage to Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, where Queneau took an unremarkable short episode and retold it in ninety-nine discursive styles. Queneau’s exercises are clever play with the structures and uses of language. Dung Kai-cheung’s catalog is a cultural “thick description” of popular culture filled with dry wit and humor. His sketches are not short stories. He offers flights of fancy.
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.
Hafez in Love is an English translation of the 2004 novel Hafez-e-nashenideh pand (literally “Hafez, Heedless of Advice”) by the late author Iraj Pezeshkzad who was one of Iran’s best-known contemporary authors. He is best remembered for his satirical 1973 novel, My Uncle Napoleon which was later made into a successful television series. In Hafez in Love, Pezeshkzad—through a creative engagement with the poetry of Hafez and his contemporaries, as well as an imaginative use of historical fiction—brings the literary scene of 14th-century Iran to life.
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.