Fans of modern Japanese literature will not want to skip Patient X. These fans will recognize Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) as one of the most well-known Japanese authors and as having a top literary award—the Akutagawa Prize—named after him. Readers not familiar with Akutagawa will still likely be familiar with his short story “In a Grove”, which is about the widely differing accounts of a murder as related by witnesses and those involved. The famous director Akira Kurosawa used the story as the plot for his film Rashōmon.
The Court Dancer, the latest novel by Man Asian Literary Prize winner Kyung-Sook Shin, is likely destined to be read in several different ways. The first, and in some ways the most commercial, is as East-West romantic period fiction in the tradition of, say, Alessandro Baricco’s Silk or any number of English-language examples.
In his foreword to this anthology, Jonathan Stalling eloquently describes how “Taiwan literature, like its complex writing systems, exists as a palimpsest of the cultural contact points, overlapping languages, peoples, and histories that have paved the way for one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the Sinosphere and the world beyond.” The aptness of this delightful description is borne out by what follows, namely 11 diverse, yet eminently readable, short stories and essays written between 1976 and 2013.
To get the details out of the way first: Alisa Ganieva is a Russian writer of Avar/Dagestani extraction. She has been called “the first Dagestani author to have their [sic] work translated into English”, and her most recent translated novel, the 2015 Bride and Groom—which was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize—is set in the Muslim-majority and turbulent Caucasus region of Dagestan.
Literature from Central Asia in English is rare; it may even be rare in the original, untranslated, given the relatively small populations and some seven decades of Soviet linguistic, literary and cultural oppression. In any event, it appears that there are just two works of Turkmen fiction available in English, both by the dissident, and exiled, writer Ak Welsapar: the novel The Tale of Aypi and this recently published collection of short stories.
For most people in the West, the relationship with China is one based on products—clothes, shoes, mobile phones—or, should the rumbling trade war materialize, the lack of them. But the people who toil away making these products are hardly ever brought into focus.
Sex and death, the twin yet conflicting human compulsions identified by Freud, abound in this vivid and sensual epic of love and loss set against the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.