If you were to visit the British Museum and take a quick look at HC Cornelius’s View of the ruins of a Bramin temple at Brambanang, you might surmise that it is an exquisite piece of landscape art, depicting a typical rural scene in early 19th-century Java.
There are few recent books as deeply anchored in both global and urban history as Su Lin Lewis’s exploration of urban life in early-twentieth-century Southeast Asian port cities. Combining a keen interest in the consequences of the world’s growing connectedness during the tail end of the age of steam, a thorough familiarity with the places it studies, and painstaking archival research, the book showcases how two subfields of history can be merged to great benefit. While Lewis speaks to recent debates in global history, she successfully eschews the now familiar charge that the field’s practitioners have veered too far from concrete, empirical studies of the local. The elegantly presented results of her research therefore should be read by a wide range of historians.
Resting together after an afternoon climb to the hillside Kyoto grave of her father’s great benefactor, the school principal who provided for the 90-year-old Anglican minister when he was just a penniless, fatherless newspaper boy, Joy Kogawa brought herself to speak: “Dad, I know what you did.”
The burdens of immigrant life in Japan provide the meat of Min Jin Lee’s new novel Pachinko. Spanning five generations, Pachinko is the arresting tale of a Korean family which emigrated to Japan and is a welcome and timely publication dealing with the fraughtness of colonial and immigrant experiences. Although such scope might make one think of a sprawling, Tolstoyean narrative, Lee maintains a taut, narrow focus, unraveling the uniqueness of her characters while providing a deeply satisfying attention to detail.
When Japanese answer the phone, they usually say “moshi moshi,” which means something like “I’m here and I can talk.” Moshi Moshi, the title of Banana Yoshimoto’s latest novel, refers to the phone that the main character’s father left at home before leaving to commit suicide with his paramour. The main character, Yoshie, dreams that her father is trying to find his phone to call her. But the title also captures the feeling that Yoshie has something to say about her father, and that she can finally say it. She needs to say it.
Back in the 1980s, books about Japan became bestsellers worldwide, with the ascent of Japan from the ignominy and abject destruction of 1945 to the position of the #2 economy on the planet, with the #1 spot not far off in the breathless predictions of some at the time.
Anyone who wishes to opine on Hong Kong’s perceived troubled present and possibly fraught future would do well to read Richard Wong’s Fixing Inequality in Hong Kong first.