Jeong You-jeong’s Seven Years of Darkness opens in 2011 with young Choi Sowon living in Lighthouse Village, South Korea. The place is so remote GPS can’t locate it and so out of date that the president of its youth-club is sixty-one years old.
The title of this book is the first “imposture”, flouting the venerable approach of calling this 12th-century Arabic classic the “Assemblies” or the “Seances of Hariri”. Maqamat means a halting place, where an audience might sit around and tell stories. It can, at a stretch, mean “to get up”, focusing on the storyteller standing before his audience. With “Impostures” as the title, Michael Cooperson, a professor of Arabic literature at UCLA, puts us on notice not to expect a traditional translation. The Maqamat recounts in 50 episodes the impostures of the protagonist Abu Zeid, posing as beggar, poet, plaintiff, scholar or sufi, in order to con money out of his appreciative and affably gulled assembly of listeners. He succeeds in opening their purses by deploying the most dazzling verbal gymnastics imaginable. Acrostics, palindromes, rhymed verse, rare words, this does not even begin to describe the extent of Abu Zeid’s rhetorical arsenal.
The opening section of Shubhangi Swarup’s debut novel is set in India’s tropical Andaman Islands. Forestry Minister, Girija Prasad, marries clairvoyant Chanda Devi: he works with trees, she converses with them.
Waheeda Rela finds her life in politics (in a fictional district in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the late 1990s) decided by a chit drawn from a bowl. Fundraising and campaigning have her run into Monish, a rich industrialist playboy. What begins to happen between the two makes a dangerous story.
Tourism has been an industry hit harder than almost any other by Covid-19. Restarting it is one of the major post-pandemic priorities, although mass tourism has itself often been an environmental and, especially in developing countries, social scourge. Although written well before the outbreak, Yun Ko-Eun’s entertaining eco-satire The Disaster Tourist is only just now appearing in Lizzie Beuhler’s English translation, at a unique time when travel has all but come to a standstill.
There must be a temptation to approach Paek Nam-nyong’s Friend, presumably the first “state-sanctioned” North Korean novel available in English, much as Samuel Johnson did “a dog’s walking on his hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Skeptics will rapidly be disabused.
As cities have increasingly become hitching posts for books, both fiction and non-fiction, Mumbai has naturally been subjected to thematic treatment. The city is celebrated for its resilience and its cosmopolitanism; tributes wax eloquent about its trains, its sea, its heritage buildings, or the diverse communities that inhabit it, to the point that its greatness has increasingly begun to sound clichéd.