Arabia Felix: Happy Arabia. Who wouldn’t want to go there and find out why it was such a happy place? In fact, in 1761 not that many Europeans were going there, which left an opening for the culturally and scientifically minded king of Denmark, Frederik V, to make a name for himself and his country by supporting a Danish expedition to that fortunate land. New scientific discoveries could be there for the making and new accurate maps drawn, as well as a chance to prove some of the stories told about Moses and the Israelites; could they have left inscriptions as they fled from Egyptian persecution, writings which might be transcribed by a competent philologist?
The prolific British historian Niall Ferguson contends that the Second World War began in July 1937, when, after an “incident” at the Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing, Japan sent five divisions to Northern and coastal China. By the end of the year, more than 800,000 Japanese troops occupied 150,000 square miles of Chinese territory, and the Chinese capital of Nanking had been literally raped and pillaged by Japanese forces.
MacArthur hardly appears. The spies were rank amateurs. But once you get past the misleading title, MacArthur’s Spies is a well-written piece of work with a lot to say about life in occupied Manila during World War II.
Most places other than those where English is the main language are usually—in terms of literature—defined by works in the local language; English-readers view this tradition via translations. But the situation in Hong Kong is reversed: because Hong Kong Chinese works are so rarely translated, and because there is a considerable body of Hong Kong writing in English, Hong Kong has come to most non-Chinese readers via the English rather than the Chinese tradition. Translated Hong Kong Chinese literature remains all too uncommon, so the small (but numerous) morsels in Cantonese Love Stories, a collection of twenty-five short pieces by Dung Ka-Cheung, are very welcome.
Meeting with My Brother is prefaced by an illuminating introduction by professor and translator Heinz Insu Fenkl in which he provides a literary and personal background to Korean author Yi Mun-Yol and Korean literature in general.
All too many places have the form of democracy—elections—without the substance. Hong Kong, just about uniquely, has the opposite: most of the substance—a free press, independent courts, rule of law, privacy protections, etc.—without the form. The territory suffers having a significant democratic deficit, a situation that Christopher Patten, the “last governor”, famously called “liberty without democracy”.
Balli Kaur Jaswal’s teasingly entitled and intricately plotted novel incorporates multiple storylines with elements of rom-com, mystery, and family saga. The main protagonist, Nikki, is a 22-year-old, single, independent-minded university drop-out in London. She lives alone above the pub where she works while she searches for her calling, and for love. In the way of adult children everywhere, she is breaking her parents’ hearts with her choices. But her parents are Punjabi immigrants to Britain, and so as well as negotiating all the usual intergenerational pitfalls, Nikki must also negotiate diverging cultural expectations, both between herself and her family, and also between herself and the wider Punjabi community.