Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan should come with a warning on the cover: “contents may cause readers to break into a sweat and consume unhealthy amounts of Laoganma spicy chilli crisp.” The setting for this complicated and often humorous story of the Duan-Xue clan, a family consumed by resentments, betrayals, matriarchal machinations, and sibling rivalry, is Pingle, a small town in Sichuan province, which the author tells us in the foreword is essentially the town she grew up in.
In the summer of 1792, the Qianlong Emperor was confronted with a uniquely Tibetan Buddhist problem: Qing authorities had discovered the Eighth Dalai Lama, Seventh Panchen Lama, the Fourth Jetsundamba, several other prominent reincarnate lineages, and a distinguished Tibetan statesman, were embedded in a web of kinship ties. “… How is it possible that the reincarnations of all the major kutuktus of Tibet have come to appear only in the noble households?” he remarked in a letter to one of his most trusted generals.
Chi Zijian’s novel The Last Quarter of the Moon was set among the Evenki reindeer-herders in remotest Heilongjiang. Her latest novel in English translation, Goodnight, Rose, has as its center the relationship between a Chinese country girl making her way in Harbin and an elderly Jewish woman who arrived, as did many, after the Russian revolution. Chi herself seems fascinated by the interaction between peoples and societies; her novels can transcend nationality and culture.
As a place that doesn’t fit any of the world’s standard pigeon-holes, it seems fitting that Taiwan would have an unconventional book such as Formosa Moon written about it. Not a travelogue nor a memoir but both, Formosa Moon is about what happens after Joshua Samuel Brown, a longtime Taiwan expat moving back from the US, brings his girlfriend Stephanie Huffman to Taiwan for the first time.
Author Louis Cha, whose wuxia martial arts novels became Chinese cultural touchstones and who heralded an explosion of Hong Kong literary and media production, died 30 October. Though Cha leaves a legacy of massive sales in Asia, his books have not yet taken hold in the west. Efforts this year to expand his English readership, however, can only gain new resonance with Cha’s passing.
Ling Hon Lam encourages us to think of emotions in terms of space; when we sympathize with a character in a play or feel something for another person, that emotion takes place, for it moves us outside ourselves. In Chinese this relation between space and emotion is described by the term qingjing; a scenery of feeling or in Ling’s translation an “emotion-realm”.
Stories with a grand narrative can join the past and the future. They can motivate a community to believe and act. A good story can even persuade others that someone or something is special and, even though they may not have a direct stake in the outcome, they would nevertheless wish the protagonists well.