The opening section of Shubhangi Swarup’s debut novel is set in India’s tropical Andaman Islands. Forestry Minister, Girija Prasad, marries clairvoyant Chanda Devi: he works with trees, she converses with them.
Waheeda Rela finds her life in politics (in a fictional district in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the late 1990s) decided by a chit drawn from a bowl. Fundraising and campaigning have her run into Monish, a rich industrialist playboy. What begins to happen between the two makes a dangerous story.
Tourism has been an industry hit harder than almost any other by Covid-19. Restarting it is one of the major post-pandemic priorities, although mass tourism has itself often been an environmental and, especially in developing countries, social scourge. Although written well before the outbreak, Yun Ko-Eun’s entertaining eco-satire The Disaster Tourist is only just now appearing in Lizzie Beuhler’s English translation, at a unique time when travel has all but come to a standstill.
There must be a temptation to approach Paek Nam-nyong’s Friend, presumably the first “state-sanctioned” North Korean novel available in English, much as Samuel Johnson did “a dog’s walking on his hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Skeptics will rapidly be disabused.
As cities have increasingly become hitching posts for books, both fiction and non-fiction, Mumbai has naturally been subjected to thematic treatment. The city is celebrated for its resilience and its cosmopolitanism; tributes wax eloquent about its trains, its sea, its heritage buildings, or the diverse communities that inhabit it, to the point that its greatness has increasingly begun to sound clichéd.
It’s late 1935 and Mauna Loa is erupting. Residents of Hilo worry that Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, is angry. Gail Tsukiyama sets her new novel, The Color of Air, in this still small city populated mainly by sugarcane workers and fishermen during an eruption that actually took place in the 1930s. The novel, meanwhile, is populated mainly with the children and grandchildren of Japanese immigrants that arrived in Hawai’i in the late 1800s.
For some men, getting to know a woman isn’t quite what it seems. In this quirky collection of stories by Xu Xu, we can read about a man who dates a would-be ghost, another takes up with a supposedly mentally-challenged girl who has conversations with birds and eventually becomes a Buddhist nun, a third hooks up in a pro forma marriage (which later becomes real) with a mysterious Jewish woman whom a new acquaintance has asked him to help get to Europe, and a fourth falls in love with a strange girl who eventually kills herself after telling her tragic personal story to the narrator.