Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.
The traditional nursery rhyme goes:
Two little Soldier boys playing with a gun; One shot the other and then there was One. One little Soldier boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Pyongyang and Naypyidaw were, Andray Abrahamian claims, the last of the pariah states.
There is much more than the average “Asian expatriate in the US” story to be found in the debut novel by Elaine Castillo. America Is Not the Heart offers some genuine insights into love, life and what constitutes a home as well as an absorbing family saga set between the Philippines and the Bay area of San Francisco.
Moscow’s Red Square and Bangkok’s Imperial Queen’s Park wouldn’t seem to have much in common but for the main characters in Anatoly Kurchatkin’s enjoyable and fascinating novel Tsunami, translated by Arch Tait from the original Russian, there is much that unites these disparate locales.
To take a photograph, Susan Sontag tells us, “is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power.” A photograph also preserves evidence and exposes the human condition, which the viewer then appropriates. Old photographs preserve worlds that are gone, but they also bring them back, because the moment which they record is there forever, and cannot be moved in time either backwards or forwards. David Bellis knows this, and he has given us a glimpse of a world that is still present in photographs, a world which contains stories that are also preserved.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively small size, Taiwan has had a turbulent and diverse history that has seen it endure dictatorship during the 20th century, Japanese colonization, and being a minor part of the Qing Dynasty. But before all this, the island, then known as Formosa, was the prize of a mighty struggle between the Dutch and a Ming Dynasty pirate-nobleman almost 400 years ago. Lord of Formosa—first published in Dutch in 2015—is the story of Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, the son of a Chinese nobleman and a Japanese woman, and how he won Taiwan from the Dutch.
A Tokyo Romance is a memoir of living in Japan from 1975 to 1981 that immerses the reader in a world of avant-garde theatre and film. It serves as an interesting look at a time when Japan, not China was taking the world by storm. The author, Ian Buruma, currently editor of the New York Review of Books, meditates on living in Japan as a foreigner and how to approach being a perennial outsider. For Buruma, the experience is liberating and Japan is a catalyst for finding his own artistic voice.