Although the Long March, the Communist Red Army’s year-long retreat in 1934 and 1935 to evade the Nationalist Army, is one of the most dramatic events of 20th-century Chinese history, it seems to have featured less as a setting for recent novels than the Cultural Revolution.
It helps to be reminded from time to time that literature, all other objectives aside, is at bottom storytelling. And Turkish Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel Nights of Plague is storytelling so luxuriant that one cannot help but soak in it.
Lee Geum-yi has published more than fifty books in her native South Korea, many of which have been adapted to film and stage, as well as into a number of languages. But it’s only now that one has been translated into English. That book is The Picture Bride, a story set mainly in a Korean enclave on Hawai’i in the 1910s. Lee’s stories often involve little-told pieces of history and The Picture Bride is no exception.
Was Prince Siddhartha’s wife Yasodhara so awful that he felt compelled to renounce everything to get away from it all? So runs, at least, a misogynistic joke about the story of Buddha’s life and Enlightenment. The question remains, however, and in recent times, this story has been revisited in fiction to imagine the circumstances that could have led to his departure from worldly affairs.
India’s Andaman Islands, closer to Burma than India itself, share with Britain’s Channel Islands, closer to France than Britain itself, the (perhaps dubious) distinction of being the rare if not only parts of the larger polity to have been occupied by Axis forces during the Second World War. Japan invaded the Andamans in March 1942, which fell (much like the Channel Islands) with hardly a shot fired. Unlike the Channel Islands, however, the Andamans, home to a notorious prison for political prisoners, largely poverty-stricken and under a particularly oppressive colonial administration, was not a happy place before occupation.
At the start of Sandeep Ray’s debut novel, A Flutter in the Colony, a young woman named Maloti is approaching George Town by ship as she and her young family arrive in Malaya to start anew. Maloti’s husband, a Mr Sengupta who goes only by “the young man” in the story, has found a job working in a rubber plantation and has left Calcutta behind. As the title suggests, the story takes place during British colonial times, but perhaps the word “flutter” should be changed to the plural since the setting is in both in pre-Partition Calcutta and pre-independence Malaya.
Jean-Luc Guéry is a man down on his luck. Middling journalist, gambling addict, alcoholic. Yet when news of his brother’s murder in Saigon reaches him in France, Guéry drops everything and travels to French Vietnam to investigate.