The prolific career of acclaimed mystery and detective fiction author Seicho Matsumoto spanned the latter half of the 20th century. His 1958 novel, Tokyo Express, provides a glimpse into daily life during the postwar period in Japan. Previously published in English a generation ago under the title Points and Lines, the novel has been freshly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. As Kiichi Mihara of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police connects the dots of the case, he relies on the country’s reliable and punctual train system. His investigation is supported by veteran Jutaro Torigai of the Fukuoka Police.
“To satisfy Divine Justice, perfect victims were necessary, but the Law of Love has succeeded to the law of fear, and Love has chosen me as a holocaust, me, a weak and imperfect creature” wrote Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha in her 1982 debut novel Dictee. Only two months after its publication, Cha was raped and murdered on her way to meet her husband and friends for dinner in New York City. She was 31 years old. Cha’s novel is haunting, tragic, and defiant. Written in multiple languages and in a style both enigmatic and experimental, its accessibility is comparable to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Dictee is widely recognized today as a critically important text of postmodern, postcolonial, Asian-American literature and has enthralled scholars of Asian American literature since its publication. Forty years later, University of California Press has produced a restored version of Dictee. With the original cover and high-quality interior layout as Cha had designed them, this book is the most aesthetically appealing edition of the five that have been produced.
The Kushnameh is unique, literally. Only one copy of the “Epic of Kush” exists, sitting in the British Library. Hardly anything is known about its author, Iranshah. It features a quite villainous protagonist, the tusked warrior Kush, who carves a swathe of destruction across the region. And it spans nearly half the world, with episodes in Spain, the Maghreb, India, China and even Korea.
The Medieval Iranians, no less than we today, sought answers to questions about far-away countries and events of old. We consult Google or Wikipedia. They looked into epic poetry and romances. Since literature in those days had both to entertain and instruct, the stories they read about Korea, China, Khazaria and Spain also spoke of monsters, wizards and moon-faced beauties. The biggest difference between their curiosity and ours is that they emphasized wisdom over knowledge. Even a legend can be rich in initiatic truths.
Hakkenden is a classic work of Japanese literature: the story of the eight warriors, born from Princess Fuse and the dog Yatsufusa, has been adapted to manga, movies and anime. And its tropes continue to pop up in Japanese popular culture today.
English literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a profusion of lengthy, serialized novels by people such as Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray and Elizabeth Gaskell. On the continent Marcel Proust wrote his seven-volume A la recherche du temps perdu, which took him fourteen years to write (1913-27), and of course there’s Tolstoy with War and Peace and Dostoevsky with The Brothers Karamazov. These authors were rank amateurs compared with one Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848), the Japanese writer who managed to churn out what must be the most mind-bogglingly monumental novel in the history of literature, the Hakkenden, the first part of which, presented here (the translator promises a complete version), came out in 1814.
The Chinese claim to have invented many things. To paper and gunpowder, we should probably add historical novels. The English language only came into this genre with Walter Scott’s Waverly novels in 1814, while Chinese readers had been enjoying The Romance of the Three Kingdoms already for five centuries. Late Ming literatus Feng Menglong’s Chronicles of the States of the Eastern Zhou (東周 列國 志）brings to life another eventful period in Chinese history, that of the Warring States. Kings and courtiers, concubines and ministers dream, scheme, take counsel and spill blood in dizzying succession. Feng’s story did not, however, captivate generations of readers by offering nothing but sex and beheadings. Rather, readers concerned about the decline of the Ming, or even 21st-century America, can find compelling narratives of how empires fall. Two new translations, one by Seoul National University’s Olivia Milburn, the other by Erik Honobe from Japan’s Tama University, tackle this classic text for English readers.