There is, or at least was, a family style restaurant in Queens, a not-always fashionable part of New York, grandiosely styled “The Uzbekistan Culture Center”. The owner, a former pop star on Uzbek national radio, served his friends, neighbors and curious visitors like ourselves pilafs and kebabs with a mixture of post-Soviet sadness, oriental forbearance and a twinkle of raffish self-assurance.
He could have stepped right off the pages of Of Strangers and Bees.
The classic debate of whether our lives are determined by self-will or fate is given a provocative twist in the latest novel from Indian author Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay.
Japanese literature isn’t always neatly accommodated by the buckets often set out to categorize novels. Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, about an island where entire classes of things, and the memories that go with them, just disappear, a state of affairs enforced by a malevolent and menacing special police force, could be placed in several different buckets, or none at all.
A sentient rock tricked into a familial murder, a toilet wall reimaged as a stage for revolution, and a lowly maid’s spicy Indonesian dish reworked for terror are just some of the mischievous and engrossing tales recounted in Eka Kurniawan’s Kitchen Curse. Translated from the original Indonesian by Annie Tucker, Ben Anderson and others, the collection includes sixteen stories with themes that run from the dark to the mordantly funny.
Readers from places other than India may need reminding the reference in the title of Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s latest novel is taken not from Robert J Oppenheimer’s famous phrase describing the atomic bomb, but rather the Bhagavad Gita. This story of Niki Nalwa and her quest to find Jyot—a survivor of the 1947 Partition and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots—to finish Niki’s father’s lifelong work of documenting oral testimonies of violence survivors is a reminder how violence shatters not just the present and thus the future but also thence the past, persisting in the everyday lives of those it affects.
We first meet Kazu Mori, the protagonist of award-winning Japanese author Yu Miri’s newly translated novel Tokyo Ueno Station, after his death. Unable to move fully into the afterlife, Mori seems condemned to merely observe his former abode, its visitors and its inhabitants. Through his eyes we learn about the park’s history as, variously, a battleground, a disembarkation point for immigrant workers from its train station and, in modern times, a hub for museums and galleries.
Despite the growing tensions between China and the West, one East-West relationship has endured with a continuing mutual fascination: that of Jews and Chinese, one increasingly reflected in literature and film. In particular, the story of the Shanghai Jewish refugees has enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade; Kirsty Manning’s novel, The Song of the Jade Lily, is one of the latest examples.