One need look no further than Britain’s impending departure from the European Union for an example of how once apparently dormant elements of a nation’s self-image can be reawakened. An abiding historical sense of aloofness and suspicion of Europe, which seemed to have been quelled by the forces of globalisation in recent decades, has emerged in the last year with renewed vigour. Evident also in the appeal of Trump to persistent American notions of exceptionalism, the flattening of specific cultural characteristics engendered by globalisation seems not to have greatly shifted the fundamentals of how these countries view both themselves and the outside world.
North Korea is changing. Pyongyang is a dynamic city where the last decade has seen the skyline transformed at the behest of Kim Jong Un with lines of new tower blocks and colour painted across his father and grandfather’s monochrome urban landscape. The city’s ambience and the lives of those with money has been transformed with funfairs, and water parks, shopping centres, coffee bars, beer festivals and package holidays. Science is king with new museums and centers devoted to natural history, technology and weaponry. Outside in the countryside change comes slowly, while in the Northeast “rust belt” industrial revival is even slower. They are the source of the economic migrants fleeing for a better life in the South.
Two interesting phenomena intersected at the turn on the last century. Just as Indian women were becoming globally visible as winners of several international beauty pageants, the racialized body (non-white, brown, along with Arab) became visible as the Other in the aftermath of 9/11. This stark polarity marks the subject of a new book on South Asian diaspora community that studies how appearances make and unmake attitudes about beauty and what sort of people become public icons.
Baghdad is not a city readily associated with Christianity. Nevertheless, a small (and shrinking) community lives there. This brief but resonant novel describes the discrimination and abuse they suffer for their faith as well as offering an important insight into how intolerance (of any religion or lifestyle, not just Christianity) can escalate into violence and even war.
Bears in various forms have been popular in myth and fiction for thousands of years, from Inuit traditions and the Greek myth of Callisto to John Irving’s cameo appearances of bears in his novels, and from William Kotswinkle’s bear turned New York literary sensation to, of course, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, and The Three Bears. We respect them and are in awe of their size, physical strength, and seemingly introspective intelligence. Not to mention bear cubs are so cuddly they inspired the ubiquitous teddy bear. Yoko Tawada, award-winning novelist who was born in Tokyo and lives in Germany, has no fewer than three bears starring as main characters in her novel, along with a cast of other bears and non-bear animals (including those of the human species).
Beautifully poised and profound, Louder than Hearts, a collection by Lebanese-born poet Zeina Hashem Beck, articulates the reverberations of home, exile and family history in the 21st century from the perspective of an Arabic woman, feeling her otherness and connection with communities locally and abroad, and her empathy towards the homelessness suffered by the refugees.
The Asian Review of Books is highlighting works of authors appearing at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival later in the Spring. This list will be updated regularly as we get get closer to the festival opening, so bookmark this page and check back. Recent additions include an a new essay from Ece Temelkuran, an extract from Louder than Hearts, poetry by Zeina Hashem Beck, a review of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and a review of and excerpt from The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong.