Thirty years ago, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published their first book, China Wakes, to critical acclaim. The couple wrote of their five years reporting about China for The New York Times from 1988 to 1993. Other journalists reporting on China have followed suit and we’ve seen books by Jan Wong, Mike Chinoy, Frank Langfitt, Dori Jones Yang, Rob Schmitz, Lenora Chu, and Karoline Kan, among others. There is also the Peace Corps cohort of Peter Hessler and Michael Meyer, who went on to become journalists and write about China. These books have brought China to readers who are both familiar with the country and who are just starting to learn about it, and in most cases, these journalists chose to write about a certain city, region, or period.

Tracy O’Neill was adopted from South Korea in the 1980s and never thought to search for her birth mother until 2020 when the world seemed to stop. She had just landed a tenure-track position at Vassar and had broken up with a long-term boyfriend. With more time on her hands—teaching online and not leaving her new apartment much—she had the desire to find her birth mother in Korea. The story of her search, discovery and meeting her mother is the subject of her third book, Woman of Interest. This is hardly the first adoption memoir, but O’Neill is a writer of some pedigree with a couple of novels under her belt, which perhaps explains why her memoir at times reads like a thriller and does so right at the beginning. 

Long unavailable, Rohit Manchanda’s newly reissued A Speck of Coal Dust won the Betty Trask Award when it was first published (under a different titles) a generation ago. It takes place in the kingdom of childhood, not however to be confused with that of innocence. In this world, everything can be—and is meant to be—explored and experienced. A flower cannot be marvelled at; it must be touched. A snake cannot be avoided; it must be prodded. The result is a bildungsroman that is starkly refreshing, adding depth to a period and place relatively ignored in literature.

“Historians are stuck with the evidence, novelists can describe what actually happened,” says the French writer, Jean-Félix de la Ville Beaugé. In Firestorm in Paradise, historian Rana Safvi switches roles from the constraints of the former to the imagination of the latter. In her history of Mughal Delhi, Shahjahanabad, published in 2019, she meticulously retraces the topography of the city, uncovering remains of their long-forgotten kiosks and gardens. Now as a novelist, she populates those stone remnants with people, smells, songs and sights, bringing back life as it must have been to Old Delhi.

Hebrew is unique, an ancient tongue that was all but lost for millennia as a spoken language, but was revitalized in the late 19th century and is now the official language of Israel, a country of nine million. Despite this relatively small number of native speakers, Hebrew literature is robust, yet Hebrew literature in English translation remains rare. So it’s unusual to see two new poetry collections come out around the same time. A Winding Line: Three Hebrew Poets by Maya Bejerano, Sharron Hass, and Anat Zecharia, translated by Tsipi Keller and So Many Things are Yours by Admiel Kosman, translated by Lisa Katz  include a unique combination of poems that borrow from Old Testament stories and contemporary Israeli life, including politics. 

Almost a hundred years ago, Agatha Christie published an Hercule Poirot mystery, Death in the Air, which takes place on a flight from Paris to London. It may not be her most famous, but debut author Ram Murali has recycled the title for his whodunnit set mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh—where the Beatles studied meditation—but also in small parts in London, Paris, and Bermuda.