The mid-20th century comic strip Terry and the Pirates, as cringeworthy as its artless racism is, tells us as much about the Americans of the era as it does about the Chinese. In a similar way, the Longstreets’ Geishas and the Floating World is a delightful artifact for seeing Japan through the 1960s American, more especially male, gaze—so ineluctably male, in fact, it can be hard to identify what Ethel’s contributions might have been. Stephen Longstreet is the perfect American to reflect on the Yoshiwara pleasure district. A painter, jazzman, Hollywood screenplay writer, at home in both Saint Germain des Prés’s Tabu and Harlem’s Cotton Club, he instinctively identifies Yoshiwara as the Chrysanthemum Vie de Bohème as he effortlessly conjures the kaleidoscope of senses which Yoshiwara offered its male visitors. Geishas is one of a hundred books Longstreet wrote, so one does not read it for either the literary insight of Donald Keane’s translations or the erudition of Ivan Morris’s The World of the Shining Prince.

Run Me to Earth opens in war-torn Laos in 1969. Three teens—Alisak, his friend Prany and Prany’s younger sister, Noi—freelance in a ruined French villa now serving as a makeshift hospital. They care for each other, ride motorcycles through obstacle courses of unexploded ordnance, and are looked after by, and look after, Vang, a young doctor who finds his own refuge in an abandoned piano and alcohol.

Earlier this year, a fire broke out in the Chinatown archive of New York’s Museum of Chinese in America, spurring a tremendous outpouring of sympathy and support from those fearing that a crucial chapter in the nation’s history was lost forever. A few days later, newspaper reports from that normally bustling neighborhood indicated that, due largely to worries over the coronavirus, tourists and locals alike were staying away in droves. Much of MoCA’s archive turned out to be salvageable, and diners and shoppers began trickling back downtown, but that juxtaposition of headlines still shows the ambivalence much of mainstream America feels about its Chinese population. 

When Emily Clements finds herself alone in Vietnam after her best friend suddenly departs for Australia, she tries to make the best of her opportunity to see Southeast Asia. Only nineteen, Clements quickly picks up the language and goes out of her way to meet Hanoians. This memoir of her year in Vietnam is not, however, a typical expat book about immersing oneself into another culture. Instead, it centers on the way women are conditioned to put our feelings last. 

The first two decades of the 20th century saw the emergence of urbanism in sociology and philosophy: Georg Simmel wrote about the metropolis and mental life, and Walter Benjamin penned portraits of Western cities like Paris and discussed the work of Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe in the context of the flâneur,  the dandy who roamed the streets to observe the city and the people.