The times are a-changing for superheroes. Weary, doubtful and even hated for their supernatural aptitude of putting the world’s needs before theirs, our 21st-century champions are in the middle of a mid-life crisis that is spurning countless books and Hollywood box-office hits. Now the rave is all about bringing them back into the Xanax realm of anguished souls they were supposed to look after.
And that is why Captain Corcoran and his 19th-century confidence in his ability to wow the crowds —especially the ladies—is exactly the kind of hero we want to read about.
Unlike his Malaysian-Chinese compatriots, Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng who have become well-known for novels which fit pretty squarely into the English-language, Ng Kim Chew writes in Chinese from a base in Taiwan. Slow Boat to China is a collection of his short stories, the first book of his—as far as I can tell—to appear in English.
The Cauliflower® is a playful and provocative investigation of faith, and of how a spiritual master’s legacy is ensured. It raises many questions, including, even before the book’s been opened the ® symbol in the title. It is perhaps a joke that, notwithstanding people’s best attempts, ideas can’t be trademarked. Fifty pages in, one may well start asking whether this is a novel at all or whether that even matters. Although The Cauliflower® does have a reasonably conventional narrative thread running through it—the biography of Sri Ramakrishna, the beloved, mid-19th-century Hindu guru, as told, in the present tense, by his nephew, Hriday—it includes much else besides.
Set in the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan during the final years of the USSR, The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small Turkmen village on the banks of the Caspian Sea. As the story begins, the sleepy fishing village has recently been informed by the central government that everyone is to be relocated to a nearby urban center so that their land can be used for the construction of a new hospice.
In the author’s preface to Flock of Brown Birds, Ge Fei writes of his response to those who have told him that they do not understand the work: “I don’t blame you. I’m not sure I understand it either.”
Straightforward comprehension is, however, far from the point in this slight novella. Self-consciously inspired by the work of Borges and Kafka, Flock of Blown Birds functions to some extent as obscure allegory, but most closely resembles a dream in its circular logic and narrative inconsistencies.
A novel with a title like Pyre is unlikely to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the journey towards this inevitable outcome delivers a disturbing insight into human bigotry and brutality whose application extends far beyond the novel’s treatment of inter-caste marriage in contemporary Tamil Nadu.
Well-researched and devastatingly beautiful, Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an ambitious book that articulates the reverberating impact of totalitarianism in communist China, as well as the transforming power of friendship and humanity.