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.

Drawing on the Chinese classic novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, Jenny Tinghui Zhang’s debut novel is a beautifully-written if haunting story set in coastal Shandong province, San Francisco and Idaho. Eight years ago Jenny Tinghui Zhang learned from her father, after he traveled through Idaho, of the brutal murders of Chinese men in the 1880s who were falsely accused of killing a white shop owner in that state.

Di Renjie or Judge Dee (as he’s better known in Western popular culture) was a Tang Dynasty magistrate first fictionalized in an anonymous 18th-century Chinese detective novel. Dutch diplomat author Robert van Gulik translated and popularized the character in a series of novels beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1960s. The character was picked up by other Western authors and television from the late 1960s. There is something fitting in Qiu Xiaolong, poet and author of the well-received “Inspector Chen” novels, rebooting the character.

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.