South Korea was not always the prosperous, democratic country it is now. Just a few decades ago in the late seventies, it was relatively poor and ruled by a harsh authoritarian regime desperate to catch up with the West while cracking down on any form of public dissent. This is the turbulent backdrop against which Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz takes place.
A few weeks ago in front of Lincoln Center in New York, while Women in The World Summit was about to start, a woman who seemed to like she could move mountains called Tina Brown was telling me, “I very much liked your description… What was it? ‘Having a sword fight with the ghosts’.”
“Man cannot control the current of events,” remarked Otto von Bismarck, “he can only float with them and steer.” The great German Chancellor understood that it is much easier to design a grand strategy for international politics than to implement one.
Between September and Christmas 1964, the Dutch sinologist Erik Zürcher undertook a three month visit to China organized by the state travel agency Luxingshe. It was official and exceptional. China was closed for business, isolated and angry at history. Barely more than a decade previously, Dutch troops in UN Command had been fighting the Chinese People’s Volunteers on the Korean Peninsula.
The term “Chinese opera” usually refers to the traditional Chinese art form, but there are an increasing number of examples of modern attempts—such as the recent Dream of the Red Chamber—at a sort of cultural fusion of Chinese themes and traditions with Western operatic style and format. It is probably fair to say that none of these yet rises to the level of a Rigoletto or Carmen in the minds of either the public or critics, but the potential cultural rewards of a Chinese operatic repertoire successfully existing alongside and complementing the European ones are so obvious that is commendable and hardly surprising that the efforts are accelerating.
I feel the idea of displacement is central to Louder than Hearts—displacement from the land, from home, from memory, and from one’s mother language. The book is dedicated “To our broken languages & our broken cities,” but I wanted to find song and celebration too, inside the brokenness.
Most of us in our 20s or above remember where we were on 1 January 2000, when the planet welcomed the new year, decade, century and millennium. (Pedants however never tire of pointing out that the correct date should have been one year later.) Lijia Zhang’s Lotus begins with the title character facing a rather grim start to the year—on that January day, Lotus is arrested for suspicion of prostitution as she’s sitting shore side in Shenzhen, contemplating the turns of her 23 years of life.