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.
The term “historical novel” usually arouses images of 18th-century swashbuckling. Sweden, however, is a historical novel set much closer to our own time. According to the official record, more than half a million American servicemen attempted to desert during the Vietnam War.
Behind the somewhat unprepossessing title, The Watermelon Boys is the story of several several interlocking destinies playing out in what is now Iraq during and immediately after World War I.
The Court Dancer, the latest novel by Man Asian Literary Prize winner Kyung-Sook Shin, is likely destined to be read in several different ways. The first, and in some ways the most commercial, is as East-West romantic period fiction in the tradition of, say, Alessandro Baricco’s Silk or any number of English-language examples.
Expect no easy ride. Author Bryn Hammond evidently thinks that the best way to teach you swimming is to throw you into the deep end. But if you don’t drown instantly, and if you brace yourself through the first 10-20 pages of Against Walls, there is a good chance that you’ll stay in the magic waters of her world until the end of the story.
Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively small size, Taiwan has had a turbulent and diverse history that has seen it endure dictatorship during the 20th century, Japanese colonization, and being a minor part of the Qing Dynasty. But before all this, the island, then known as Formosa, was the prize of a mighty struggle between the Dutch and a Ming Dynasty pirate-nobleman almost 400 years ago. Lord of Formosa—first published in Dutch in 2015—is the story of Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, the son of a Chinese nobleman and a Japanese woman, and how he won Taiwan from the Dutch.