We are used to novels by expats written in the language of home and then occasionally translated back, sometimes as a curiosity, into the language of the place where the work is set. But the expats are usually Western and the language English. Xue Yiwei’s Celia, Misoka, I, translated from Chinese by Stephen Nashef, is a rare example of this process operated from the other side of the mirror.
A novel that defies convention, Kim Un-su’s The Cabinet begins with a series of scenes, all vastly different in setting, but all featuring a protagonist who is uniquely separated from the rest of humanity by some happening that left them singled out, sole survivors of fate’s cruel hand.
There is a word in Japanese—komorebi—that refers to the way sun shines through the trees, casting a sea of soft, dark shadows scattered with gleams of light, a phenomenon reflected in the title of Riku Onda’s most recently-translated psychological thriller Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight.
It was in the late 1930s that private detective Kosuke Kindaichi solved The Honjin Murders, the brutal killing of a newlywed couple in Okayama. Military service has prevented him from investigating another case since. Death on Gokumon Island, the second book in the Detective Kindaichi Mystery series by Seishi Yokomizo, begins just after the Second World War, and soldiers are returning home.
In India, caste can determine power and privilege. Indian fiction captures the nature of this power and privilege in different ways. Some novels depict the characters belonging to lower castes (Dalits) as victims (for instance, Mulk Raj Anand’s The Untouchables, one of the early classics of Indian English fiction) and some as villains in the sense of anti-heroes (the 2008 Booker winner Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger).
As is so often the case, when Tibetans fled their homeland for Nepal and India, they thought to return in their lifetime. Their homes in these new lands were in what were hoped would be temporary refugee camps. Decades later these camps have now become permanent and Tibetans work in jobs that revolve around the tourist industry, serving trekkers, mountain climbers, and westerners out to “find themselves”. Tsering Yangzom Lama covers these realities in her debut novel, We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies, a family saga of love and loss that spans three generations and centers around an ancient statue of a deity, or ku, that both represents their rich cultural heritage and a guiding light in their exile.
In this lyrical follow-up to her Man Booker International prize-winning novel, Celestial Bodies, Jokha Alharthi explores love, desire and language through three generations of an Omani family.