It’s been just about a year since international travel all but came to a standstill, so it could either feel timely or insidious to be presented with a new book of short stories set across East Asia, the Pacific, and Europe, several of which feature travelers. Simon Rowe’s latest collection, Pearl City: Stories from Japan and Elsewhere, fortunately falls into the former category. Rowe is known as a noir writer and these stories all fall under that genre; and here Rowe gets to the heart of everyday people in each of the places he covers.
The Code of Civilization might at first seem to be another in the line of books which includes Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations that attempt an overarching view of world history with an aim to model the present and predict the future. This time, however, the author—Vyacheslav Nikonov—is Russian.
Japanese art was a breath of fresh air to the citizens of 19th-century France, whose country was being overwhelmed with rapid modernization and industrialism. The focus on individual craftsmanship and quality stood in stark contrast with mass production, and the simple utilitarian designs were the antithesis of perceived contrivances in European schools of art. Japanese aesthetics quickly permeated all aspects of popular culture, from fashion to theatre to home decor, and assembling collections of Japanese imports became a common pastime for the wealthy elite. This enthusiastic reception and emulation of Japanese art was called japonisme.
The Peruvian-Mexican Mario Bellatin is one of the most acclaimed of the current generation of writers in Spanish. Mrs Murakami’s Garden, recently released in English, is at first glance a novella set in Japan about a widow who sets about dismantling her garden in reaction to her husband’s death.
The Hōjōki, written in 1212 by the Buddhist monk Kamo no Chōmei, is one of the most beloved works of medieval literature in Japan. The opening lines of his chronicle are familiar to most people:
The flow of the river never ceases
And the water never stays the same.
Bubbles float on the surface of pools,
Bursting, reforming, never lingering.
They’re like the people in the world and their dwellings.
As children, Shirley Ann Higuchi and her brothers knew Heart Mountain only as the place their parents met, imagining it as a great Stardust Ballroom in rural Wyoming. As they grew older, they would come to recognize the name as a source of great sadness and shame for their older family members, part of the generation of Japanese Americans forced into the hastily built concentration camp in the aftermath of Executive Order 9066.
Endō Shūsaku has the rare distinction of having one of his novels, Silence, adapted for the silver screen by none other than Martin Scorsese. Those who aren’t familiar with his opus may be surprised to find that Endō wrote from the perspective of a Roman Catholic. Sachiko, originally published in 1982 and only just now appearing in English translation, fits squarely into this tradition.