Japanese Society and the Politics of the North Korean Threat is a fascinating and well-written study of populism and irrationality in Japan, reminiscent in many ways of Charles Mackay’s 19th-century Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds—illustrated here by the drivers behind the transformation in Tokyo’s attitude to Pyongyang between 1998, 2006 and on to today.
In the author’s preface to Flock of Brown Birds, Ge Fei writes of his response to those who have told him that they do not understand the work: “I don’t blame you. I’m not sure I understand it either.”
Straightforward comprehension is, however, far from the point in this slight novella. Self-consciously inspired by the work of Borges and Kafka, Flock of Blown Birds functions to some extent as obscure allegory, but most closely resembles a dream in its circular logic and narrative inconsistencies.
Reading and translating Taiwanese poet Ling Yu reminds me much of American writer, environmentalist, and activist Terry Tempest Williams’s wisdom: There is an art to writing, and it is not always disclosure. The act itself can be beautiful, revelatory, and private.
In my opinion, Ling Yu’s poetry contains the above qualities: perhaps aware of how several poets in her country and language are prone to cultivating celebrity fame and fan culture, or capitalizing on Facebook or Twitter to sustain their poetic careers and publicity, Ling Yu strives to create a Beckettian lyricism and silence—in life and her art. What results is a poetic voice that often does not need to be loud or echoey in order to assert its confidence, passion, and weight. On the contrary, it may be heard and felt through the imagery or ambiance it evokes, hence an overall Impressionist effect that comes across as distinctly moving yet oblique.
The third volume in Christoph Baumer’s history of Central Asia is as accomplished as its predecessors The Age of the Steppe Warriors and The Age of the Silk Roads. The Age of Islam and the Mongols picks up, as they say, where we left off: it runs basically from the 8th-century Abbassids through the 15th-century’s Tamerlane.
Two new non-fiction titles.
A novel with a title like Pyre is unlikely to have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the journey towards this inevitable outcome delivers a disturbing insight into human bigotry and brutality whose application extends far beyond the novel’s treatment of inter-caste marriage in contemporary Tamil Nadu.
Journalist Paul Murphy spent a lot of time in Japanese courtrooms, as—one hastens to add—observer rather than defendant. These stories, vignettes really, are drawn from the 119 cases he followed in Matsumoto, a town of a quarter-million about 200km west of Tokyo.