Sayaka Murata’s English-language debut novel, Convenience Store Woman, caused a sensation when it appeared in a 2018 translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori. The story of an offbeat, thirty-something sales clerk at a “Smile Mart” helped spur a boom in English-language translations of Japanese literature, especially literature by women.

India’s Andaman Islands, closer to Burma than India itself, share with Britain’s Channel Islands, closer to France than Britain itself, the (perhaps dubious) distinction of being the rare if not only parts of the larger polity to have been occupied by Axis forces during the Second World War. Japan invaded the Andamans in March 1942, which fell (much like the Channel Islands) with hardly a shot fired. Unlike the Channel Islands, however, the Andamans, home to a notorious prison for political prisoners, largely poverty-stricken and under a particularly oppressive colonial administration, was not a happy place before occupation.

At the start of Sandeep Ray’s debut novel, A Flutter in the Colony, a young woman named Maloti is approaching George Town by ship as she and her young family arrive in Malaya to start anew. Maloti’s husband, a Mr Sengupta who goes only by “the young man” in the story, has found a job working in a rubber plantation and has left Calcutta behind. As the title suggests, the story takes place during British colonial times, but perhaps the word “flutter” should be changed to the plural since the setting is in both in pre-Partition Calcutta and pre-independence Malaya.

The Medieval Iranians, no less than we today, sought answers to questions about far-away countries and events of old. We consult Google or Wikipedia. They looked into epic poetry and romances. Since literature in those days had both to entertain and instruct, the stories they read about Korea, China, Khazaria and Spain also spoke of monsters, wizards and moon-faced beauties. The biggest difference between their curiosity and ours is that they emphasized wisdom over knowledge. Even a legend can be rich in initiatic truths.