From her early interest in Russia’s hinterlands to her recent focus on the culture and places of Japan, German poet and novelist Marion Poschmann’s writing continues its eastward drift. Her latest novel (and first in English thanks to Jen Calleja’s translation) The Pine Islands, which recounts the tragic-comic journey of a middle-aged German university professor who decamps to Japan (he dreams that his wife is cheating on him) and undertakes a Bashō-inspired journey once there, has been shortlisted for the German Book Prize (2017) and Man Booker International Prize (2019) and hailed as a “masterpiece” by Germany’s esteemed newspaper Die Zeit.
With her sinuously taut sculpture “The Arch of Hysteria” (1993), French artist Louise Bourgeois addressed deep-seated Western cultural associations between women, hysteria, and sexual dysfunction. Drawing on the ideas of 19th-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, under whom Freud had studied and whose ideas enjoyed a great deal of currency among many Surrealist artists years later, Bourgeois re-fashioned what had become a prototypical image of the hysterical woman in the Western imagination, writhing and with arched back, into a headless, genital-less, bronze male body suspended by a wire. It is a potent visual metaphor and the subversiveness of Bougeois’s gesture laid the groundwork for subsequent artistic re-evaluations of this specious aspect of European cultural history.
“Pardon me for asking,” says an elderly lady called Kaoru (a unisexual Japanese name meaning “perfume” or “fragrance”) to the protagonist, Mitsuki Katsura, and another hotel guest, “but has either of you come here to commit suicide?”
Various degrees of financial precariousness and a vibrant—yet maddingly hot and humid—Malaysia are the theme and setting of Tash Aw’s newest novel We, The Survivors. Through the main character Ah Hock, an ethnically Hokkien Chinese Malaysian, a tantalizing story of broken family life that crisscrosses both the megacity of Kuala Lumpur and the tropical provinces and crashes violently into the country’s often callous use of “dark-skinned and foreign” migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal.
Dark secrets in the steamy jungle of British colonial Malaya are the subject of this engrossing retelling of William Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Force of Circumstance.
Ah, Tibet! This is the land of stupendous mountain vistas, prayer flags flapping in the breeze, monasteries perched precariously on hillsides and gentle orange-clad lamas chanting Buddhist prayers in incense-filled temples. And then, along comes Tsering Döndrup to spoil it all.
Before I read this wonderfully quirky book of stories, I had never given much thought to such things as trainer bras or lucky dry fruit, both of which feature in two of May-Lee Chai’s stories about Chinese immigrants and their reactions to their experiences in new countries.