For a number of logistic, commercial and territorial reasons, books rarely circulate much outside the market they were published in. Asian-published books can as a result often, regardless of merit, end up largely unknown outside a relatively small domestic market, something that goes in spades when the book was originally published in a language other than English.
Yeng Pway Ngon’s Unrest has a long journey. Originally published in Chinese, Unrest won the 2004 Singapore Literature Prize. It took the better part of a decade for the English translation to become available in an edition from Math Paper Press in 2012. This (according to a note on the legal page, evidently somewhat revised) edition is from Balestier Press and is, for the first time, generally available internationally.
Yuki Means Happiness combines, among other elements, two love stories—one of romantic love, the other of a woman’s love for a child not her own —an exploration of divergent cultural expectations, a warning about the terrifying ease with which we can do damage to each other, in particular, the ease with which parents can do damage to children, an avowal that we can overcome such damage, and a sort of love letter to Tokyo.
Can the present save the past? Can the living save the dead? As South Korean author Han Kang revealed in a 2016 interview with the London-based magazine The White Review, these questions interested her during her twenties, only to resurface years later when drafting her novel Human Acts about the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath. And they continue to resonate in her writing as evidenced by her most recent work The White Book.
Author Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay tackles the ultimate taboo in this clever novel which uses the metaphor of a mother abandoning her child to explore the artist’s struggle to fulfill the responsibilities of life as well as the demands of creativity.
Late Ming China didn’t have the “Nigerian advance-fee scam”, but if Zhang Yingyu’s contemporary The Book of Swindles is any indication, it had just about every other con ever tried. This collection of short cautionary tales is, according to translators Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, “said to be the first Chinese story collection focused explicitly on the topic of fraud.”
As if reworking Shakespeare’s King Lear weren’t enough of a challenge, author Preti Taneja also tasks herself with turning the epic power-struggle into a call to arms for social change. Set between the murky corporate world of New Delhi and its interests in Srinagar, Kashmir, We That are Young is both a criticism of today’s consumer culture and an appeal to those who will inherit it.
As contemporary Korean literature receives increasing acclaim in English-language circles—Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize—it is perhaps inevitable that efforts are being made to introduce older Korean classics to the English language mainstream. One of of these is Sweet Potato, a newly-translated volume of short stories by Kim Tongin (or Kim Dong-in) written mostly in the Japanese colonial period between the Wars.