Ahmet Altan is something of a master of the evocative opening line, brief this time: “Some nights he woke to the footsteps of the ants crawling across the Persian carpet.” Although Love in the Days of Rebellion, the second installment in Ahmet Altan’s “Ottoman Quartet”, is a sequel to Like a Sword Wound, it can also be read alone.
Shigeru Mizuki’s Tono Monogatari has a complicated lineage. During Japan’s rapid modernization in the early 20th century, a man named Kunio Yanagita set out to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage of magic and the supernatural. Along the way, he met a young writer, Kizen Sasaki. Together they traveled Japan’s Tono region, today about five hours northeast of Tokyo by train, recording folktales and evaluating whether they might be true. In 1910, Yanagita published a chronicle of his travels and the stories he collected: Tono Monogatari (“Tales of Tono”). Many Japanese regard Tono Monogatari as a defining text of Japanese folklore, a Japanese equivalent of the tales of the Brothers Grimm.
William Gross (or Grose) was a 19th-century African-American pioneer and hotelier in Seattle that caught the attention of author Amy Sommers. She bases her novel Rumors from Shanghai on a fictional grandson, Tolt Gross, a young lawyer who moves to Shanghai and soon after learns of Japan’s plans to bomb Pearl Harbor.
Murder mysteries make natural period pieces, because passion, crime, investigation and come-uppance speak to material culture and social manners. Miss Marple evokes mid-20th century Britain, Inspector Montalbano—contemporary Sicily. Raza Mir’s Murder in the Mushaira brings to life mid-19th-century Shahjahan-abad (as Delhi was then known), its Ramazan celebrations, noble palaces, shrines, shops and slums. He lets us smell the boiled sweet meats, the ambergris-heavy perfumes and the odors of the outhouse. We hear Urdu poets declaim their ghazals to polite applause as part of the mushairas of the title. So depicted, Mir’s Shahjahan-abad becomes a familiar place, despite the barriers of time, culture and language that separate us from the characters of his new novel.
Mizumura Minae’s An I-Novel begins with a caveat: the author herself once suggested that translating the novel, originally published in Japan in 1995, into English was singularly impossible.
Crystal Z Lee’s debut novel, Love and Other Moods, begins—as one does—with a lavish wedding à la Crazy Rich Asians. Chinese-American Joss Kong is marrying ultra-wealthy Tay Kai Tang at a swanky Shanghai hotel with an audience of friends and family that speak a variety of Chinese dialects and English with a variety of accents. There’s a Who’s Who of designer and luxury goods on everyone in the wedding party and on every guest.
A novel set in capitalist Hong Kong in the 1960s and steeped in alcohol, prostitution and stream-of-consciousness narration might not suggest a controlled work of fiction. Yet Liu Yichang’s classic The Drunkard, in Charlotte Chun-lam Yiu’s new translation, is measured, uninhibited and very good.