Hagiography. What a fascinating word; at one time I thought the “hag” implied the study of witches! The word, which of course literally means “writings on [the lives of] saints”, has also taken on a pejorative meaning, in the sense that since saints are supposedly exceptionally good people, even considered “perfectly-formed at birth” as Alexander Gardner puts it, admiringly servile biographies which flatter exceptionally bad people or even mediocrities must also be hagiographies, because they make those people look like saints.

Although Aigerim Tazhi is Kazakh, she writes in Russian. “I live in Kazakhstan,” she is quoted in translator J Kates’s introductory essay as saying,

 

but I was born in the Soviet era. We had a common country then, a common capital (Moscow), and the main language was Russian. Therefore, in school we were taught in Russian, on the streets and at home we talked in Russian. I did not choose the Russian language, did not evaluate it in terms of its attractiveness. It’s just the language that I’ve spoken since childhood.

 

Fu Ping, A Novel, Wang Anyi, Howard Goldblatt (trans) (Columbia University Press, August 2019)
Fu Ping, A Novel, Wang Anyi, Howard Goldblatt (trans) (Columbia University Press, August 2019)

Nainai has lived in Shanghai for many years, and the time has come to find a wife for her adopted grandson. But when the bride she has chosen arrives from the countryside, it soon becomes clear that the orphaned girl has ideas of her own. Her name is Fu Ping, and the more she explores the residential lanes and courtyards behind Shanghai’s busy shopping streets, the less she wants to return to the country as a dutiful wife. As Fu Ping wavers over her future, she learns the city through the stories of the nannies, handymen, and garbage collectors whose labor is bringing life and bustle back to postwar Shanghai.

It’s a sign of the times that this novel about Hong Kong’s June 4th vigils, Chinese dissidents, and village protests seems almost quaint compared with recent real-life events. In the same way, Chinese Spring is an apt story. While Hong Kong has endured weekly protests, police clashes and mass triad attacks over the past two months, the underlying reason is fear of the Chinese authorities and their legal system. This is also what the protagonists in Christopher’s new novel confront.

The Sea of Japan, Keita Nagano (SparkPress, September 2019)
The Sea of Japan, Keita Nagano (SparkPress, September 2019)

After fleeing a disastrous teaching job (and a bad gambling habit) in Boston, Lindsey starts teaching English in Hime, a small fishing town in Japan. One morning, while trying to snap the perfect ocean sunrise photo for her mother, she slips off a rock at the edge of Toyama Bay, hits her head, and plunges into the sea—and in doing so, sets off an unexpected chain of events.

The cover of Somewhere Only We Know, Maurene Goo’s latest young adult novel, isn’t inordinately different from other contemporary romantic comedies: a young Asian woman is seated while a young Asian man leans into her back, only part of his face and an arm are visible. Yet the story is unusually set almost completely in Hong Kong while the protagonist, Lucky, is an equally unlikely American-born internationally renowned teenage K-Pop star who isn’t a household name in the United States—yet.