Yu-jin wakes up after a late night out smelling blood. It turns out he’s caked in it and there are bloody footprints all over the floor. He staggers downstairs and finds a body. His mother’s body.
There’s a moment, late in Lillian Li’s debut novel, where one of the main characters shouts in frustration at her current situation and, in particular, at the owner-manager of the restaurant where she works:
Approximately 180km east of the Middle Kingdom sits an island state commonly referred to as “The Bicycle Kingdom”. If you live in Japan, Europe, or North America and own a bicycle, there is a good chance that a number of its parts were manufactured in Taiwan. From ultra-light carbon fibre frames and the latest electric, smart and green technologies to various bike components ranging from tires, pedals, chains, saddles, grips, and even bike carriers for vehicles, Taiwan’s bicycle industry remains a global leader despite recent declines in exports and sales.
In one nightmarish vignette from his 1990 film Dreams the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa imagines how life might look and feel following a nuclear meltdown in Japan. With the breach of six nuclear reactors, Japan’s residents flee to the sea, where most of them eventually drown, leaving a handful of humans amidst a radioactive landscape of blackened earth and sky. The only other living organisms are immense mutant dandelions, whose weighty yellow flower heads tower over the human figures. Twenty-one years later, the imagined world of nuclear disaster became reality when the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident.
That there are over 800,000 ethnic Koreans living permanently in Japan, including fourth and fifth generation Korean-Japanese, is not well known outside of Asia. The historical details of how the Koreans came to live in Japan is both fascinating and tragic, mainly because of the conscript labor forced on Koreans during Japanese occupation of the peninsula beginning over 100 years ago and ending with World War II. Even less well known is the discrimination the Korean-Japanese face in their adopted, officially or not, country. Known in Japan as Zainichi (“resident of Japan”), the ethnic Koreans have been largely relegated to marginal occupations as were other minority groups in Japan. That is changing, but discrimination and hate still exist.
Might Hamid Ismailov’s The Devils’ Dance open Central Asian literature to the world as Gabriel García Márquez’s novels did for Latin America? Probably not—things rarely work out like that—but perhaps it deserves to.
Deborah Rogers was an influential literary agent in London. After her death in 2014, the Deborah Rogers Writers Award was established in her honor. Since literary agents thrive on finding talented new authors, the prize was set up to support authors as they finished their first novel. In 2016, UK-based Sharlene Teo won the inaugural prize with an extract from her work-in-progress, Ponti, set in her native Singapore. The finished novel is now published by Picador.