Balli Kaur Jaswal’s teasingly entitled and intricately plotted novel incorporates multiple storylines with elements of rom-com, mystery, and family saga. The main protagonist, Nikki, is a 22-year-old, single, independent-minded university drop-out in London. She lives alone above the pub where she works while she searches for her calling, and for love. In the way of adult children everywhere, she is breaking her parents’ hearts with her choices. But her parents are Punjabi immigrants to Britain, and so as well as negotiating all the usual intergenerational pitfalls, Nikki must also negotiate diverging cultural expectations, both between herself and her family, and also between herself and the wider Punjabi community.

Taiwan’s top court just recently ruled in favor of gay marriage, culminating in what could be Asia’s first jurisdiction to allow members of the same sex to marry. Despite many challenges that still persist politically with the ruling, it indicates a more liberal attitude toward non-heterosexual relationships than when Qiu Miaojin published the novel Notes of a Crocodile in the early 1990s.

Tokyo is the world’s largest megalopolis, arguably the cleanest and safest too. But what fascinates me is the intricate way 34 million people survive in the density and sometimes crush of humanity. On the surface there may be a homogenous veneer to the inhabitants, but as I learned when living in Japan, Tokyo-ites have an intense, often fierce individuality. Getting to know a few of them well, they revealed their inner selves to me, which sparked a realization of a deeper individuality in myself.

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).