Bears in various forms have been popular in myth and fiction for thousands of years, from Inuit traditions and the Greek myth of Callisto to John Irving’s cameo appearances of bears in his novels, and from William Kotswinkle’s bear turned New York literary sensation to, of course, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and The Three Bears. We respect them and are in awe of their size, physical strength, and seemingly introspective intelligence. Not to mention bear cubs are so cuddly they inspired the ubiquitous teddy bear. Yoko Tawada, award-winning novelist who was born in Tokyo and lives in Germany, has no fewer than three bears starring as main characters in her novel, along with a cast of other bears and non-bear animals (including those of the human species).
In 2016, Deepak Unnikrishnan won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, with his then-unpublished manuscript, Temporary People. The prize awards US$10,000 and publication to a first-time, first-generation American author.
Now usually found in Chicago, Deepak Unnikrishnan is a first-generation American author from… where? He grew up in Abu Dhabi, but his parents are pravasis, the Malayalam word for migrants and temporary workers.
South Korea was not always the prosperous, democratic country it is now. Just a few decades ago in the late seventies, it was relatively poor and ruled by a harsh authoritarian regime desperate to catch up with the West while cracking down on any form of public dissent. This is the turbulent backdrop against which Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz takes place.
Most of us in our 20s or above remember where we were on 1 January 2000, when the planet welcomed the new year, decade, century and millennium. (Pedants however never tire of pointing out that the correct date should have been one year later.) Lijia Zhang’s Lotus begins with the title character facing a rather grim start to the year—on that January day, Lotus is arrested for suspicion of prostitution as she’s sitting shore side in Shenzhen, contemplating the turns of her 23 years of life.
At first glance, this award-winning epic is off-putting. First published in Hindi in 1979, the new English translation is some 452 pages long without the maps, glossary or translator’s notes required to read it. Perseverance, however, yields rewards in the shape of an all-encompassing sweep through pre-partition India, its many-faceted society and richly hued landscapes.
“Bandi” is Korean for “firefly”. It is the pseudonym chosen by the writer of the seven short stories and two poems now gathered in The Accusation, translated into English by Deborah Smith.
The burdens of immigrant life in Japan provide the meat of Min Jin Lee’s new novel Pachinko. Spanning five generations, Pachinko is the arresting tale of a Korean family which emigrated to Japan and is a welcome and timely publication dealing with the fraughtness of colonial and immigrant experiences. Although such scope might make one think of a sprawling, Tolstoyean narrative, Lee maintains a taut, narrow focus, unraveling the uniqueness of her characters while providing a deeply satisfying attention to detail.