In the newly-translated I Live in the Slums, her first collection of short stories in a decade, Chinese writer Can Xue invites us on a bizarre, at times whimsical, dark and unclassifiable journey exploring the terrain of and interaction with China’s urban geography. She keeps with her unique unconventional voice, as is best known in her earlier novels such as Love in the New Millennium, and Frontier.
Not everyone takes to magical realism, with the “one hundred years” in Gabriel García Márquez’s groundbreaking work being taken as a description of the time needed to finish it. Since that, the “magical realism label” has been assigned to a bandwagon’s-worth of Latin American writers, from Isabel Allende to Laura Esquivel and, more recently, Junot Diaz. The influence has extended very far afield, it seems, for García Márquez’s book and characters are even alluded to in Shokoofeh Azar’s Farsi novel, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, now available in English.
Alexandra is a 25-year-old contract tech reporter in the Silicon Valley with a dilemma: should she stay in a job with neither benefits nor prospects, or move to Ithaca, New York with her boyfriend for five years while he pursues a PhD at Cornell? Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, Days of Distraction, is a fictionalized account of her own move to Ithaca for her husband’s graduate work, but, even more, a treatise on Chinese American history, and the racism that runs through it and continues today.
I have sat through dozens of Chinese toasting banquets, raised glasses with Communist Party officials and even—God help me—gone shot-for-shot with soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army. So I can hold my baijiu. If you want to know if I enjoy it, that’s another matter entirely.
If you are like most English-language readers, then indigenous writing from Taiwan in English translation will be largely, if not entirely, terra incognita, which is one reason among many why the publication of Sakinu Ahronglong’s Hunter School, which is about one non-Han indigenous tribe in particular, is important. As translator Darryl Sterk explains in his brief introduction, Sakinu speaks Paiwanese, an Austronesian language that, according to the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis, shares a common ancestor with Polynesian languages as well as Tagalog, Malay, Hawaiian, and Maori. And as Sakinu himself informs his readers in his own introduction, the reconstruction of Paiwan culture, under threat by external forces, not only provides the impetus behind the text, but also an underlying life’s purpose.
When Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 was published in South Korea several years ago, it took the country by storm, selling more than a million copies and becoming the most popular book in over a decade. Applauded by many women, those who do not support feminism have spoken out against it. Last year, the film version again caused controversy between those who want South Korean sexism to change and those who think the status quo is just fine. Now available in an English translation by Jamie Chang, English-language readers get a chance to understand this divide firsthand.
In the 19th century, long before Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States in the face of jokes about the possibility of a black man living in the White House, the British mocked another “black man” who dared to stand in elections to be elected to the House of Commons in England. Dinyar Patel’s Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism is a biography of that “black man”. Straightforward in style, and well-detailed in approaches to a life as it intersected with multiple, complex movements, places, ideologies, Naoroji addresses the vacuum in the pre-Gandhian political history of modern India. It is a much-needed intervention in acknowledgment of the contribution of Indian freedom fighters before there were Indian freedom fighters.