There are some cities that lend themselves to darkness and intrigue. Macau is one of these places. First settled by refugees fleeing the Mongol invasion in northern China, it became a fishing village and later a haven for pirates. The Portuguese arrived in the 1500s and built a slice of the baroque Mediterranean in South China. It was returned to China in 1999 and today it’s the gambling capital of the world.
Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan should come with a warning on the cover: “contents may cause readers to break into a sweat and consume unhealthy amounts of Laoganma spicy chilli crisp.” The setting for this complicated and often humorous story of the Duan-Xue clan, a family consumed by resentments, betrayals, matriarchal machinations, and sibling rivalry, is Pingle, a small town in Sichuan province, which the author tells us in the foreword is essentially the town she grew up in.
Chi Zijian’s novel The Last Quarter of the Moon was set among the Evenki reindeer-herders in remotest Heilongjiang. Her latest novel in English translation, Goodnight, Rose, has as its center the relationship between a Chinese country girl making her way in Harbin and an elderly Jewish woman who arrived, as did many, after the Russian revolution. Chi herself seems fascinated by the interaction between peoples and societies; her novels can transcend nationality and culture.
Author Louis Cha, whose wuxia martial arts novels became Chinese cultural touchstones and who heralded an explosion of Hong Kong literary and media production, died 30 October. Though Cha leaves a legacy of massive sales in Asia, his books have not yet taken hold in the west. Efforts this year to expand his English readership, however, can only gain new resonance with Cha’s passing.
The story of Roman Fyodorovich Ungern-Sternberg—“a Russian general, Baltic baron, Mongolian prince, and husband of a Chinese princess”—more or less writes itself. In his novella, Horsemen of the Sands, Russian writer Leonid Yuzefovich tells the story largely from the perspective of the Buryats—ethnic Mongols living in Russia—through the medium of a lost talisman.
The term “historical novel” usually arouses images of 18th-century swashbuckling. Sweden, however, is a historical novel set much closer to our own time. According to the official record, more than half a million American servicemen attempted to desert during the Vietnam War.
Kids these days: heads buried in their cellphones; obsessed with consumer goods, boyfriends and pop music; stressed by grades and peer pressure. Their parents don’t pay attention and give them too much money. They kill cats. And maybe other things…