The Cauliflower® is a playful and provocative investigation of faith, and of how a spiritual master’s legacy is ensured. It raises many questions, including, even before the book’s been opened the ® symbol in the title. It is perhaps a joke that, notwithstanding people’s best attempts, ideas can’t be trademarked. Fifty pages in, one may well start asking whether this is a novel at all or whether that even matters. Although The Cauliflower® does have a reasonably conventional narrative thread running through it—the biography of Sri Ramakrishna, the beloved, mid-19th-century Hindu guru, as told, in the present tense, by his nephew, Hriday—it includes much else besides.
While the communication of ideas across cultures is itself generally a good thing, it inevitably involves the transmission of both good and bad ideas.
Richard Jean So, an assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago, in his new book Transpacific Community, describes the development and evolution of a cultural, literary network between certain writers and activists in China and the United States beginning in the 1920s and continuing through World War II. It included on the American side, Agnes Smedley, Pearl Buck, and Paul Robeson, and on the Chinese side, Lin Yutang and Lao She. The network’s growth was fostered by what Jean So calls “a new era in media technologies and the rise of a ubiquitous discourse of ‘communications’”, which enabled literary and artistic works to be transmitted more readily between East and West.
Hong Kong is pretty conservative when it comes to culture, so Musica Viva’s current production of four opera scenes based on Shakespeare might therefore qualify as innovative. Performing full-staged scenes from different operas—neither, in other words, a full-scale opera nor a recital—is something that is usually confined to galas.
When Fleurs de lettres approached me about interviewing Sarah Howe, winner of the 2015 TS Eliot-prize, I didn’t need to think twice about accepting the invitation. Before Howe won the prestigious award, I had already admired her work in the anthology Eight Hong Kong Poets (Chameleon Press, 2015) and a special issue of Law Text Culture (18:1, 2014). When her debut collection Loop of Jade came out I bought a copy right away and I appreciated all the more the care and thought she put into her work.
Google vs. Baidu. Amazon vs. Taobao. Whatsapp vs. WeChat. And, most recently, Uber vs. Didi.
There is clearly a divide between China and the rest of the world when it comes to internet companies. Homegrown Chinese tech firms have fought off American challengers attempting to enter the Chinese market. Chinese firms have tried to expand their presence abroad. Alibaba had the largest IPO in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. Tencent is trying to market WeChat to non-Chinese consumers, and has invested significant stakes in Western video game companies, including an outright purchase of League of Legends’s developer Riot Games.
Set in the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan during the final years of the USSR, The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small Turkmen village on the banks of the Caspian Sea. As the story begins, the sleepy fishing village has recently been informed by the central government that everyone is to be relocated to a nearby urban center so that their land can be used for the construction of a new hospice.
It can be hard to know what is going on in the Russian world of writing and books due to barriers of language; one only really knows what leaks for one reason or another into the English language press. In this regard, Chinese and Russian literature bear some similarities, at least from an English-language perspective looking in. Unfamiliar languages and undecipherable scripts leave both relatively inaccessible; English-speakers usually only view the worlds of Chinese and Russian literature through the tiny keyhole of a small number of not necessarily representative translations.
A visit to the Moscow International Book Fair pulls back the curtain at least a little.