South Asia is a literary universe unto itself. It is home to hundreds of languages intersecting in multiple ways with history, ritual, and traditions of the classical Sanskrit as well as vernacular orality. In Sensitive Reading: The Pleasures of South Asian Literature in Translation, editors Yigal Bronner and Charles Hallisey put together a set of texts from multiple languages translated by renowned Indologist David Shulman (along with works of music as well as a work of visual art). The chosen texts all to a greater or lesser extent deal with love—declarations of love, desire, longing, love for the divine, and the pain of separation. Their curation brings together the classics from the ancient and medieval periods in Indian history with a smattering of works closer to the present—19th and 20th centuries. 

The Substance of Fiction: Literary Objects in China, 1550–1775, Sophie Volpp (Columbia University Press, June 2022)
The Substance of Fiction: Literary Objects in China, 1550–1775, Sophie Volpp (Columbia University Press, June 2022)

Do the portrayals of objects in literary texts represent historical evidence about the material culture of the past? Or are things in books more than things in the world? Sophie Volpp considers fictional objects of the late Ming and Qing that defy being read as illustrative of historical things. Instead, she argues, fictional objects are often signs of fictionality themselves, calling attention to the nature of the relationship between literature and materiality.

At this time of shifting geopolitical relationships—“decoupling” between China and the US, rapprochement between China and Russia—it is unsurprising that the cultural and intellectual as well as political history of these relationships has attracted increasing attention. Recent volumes on Sino-Soviet “internationalist” interaction is now joined by Arise, Africa! Roar, China!, Gao Yunxiang’s recent study of “the close relationships between a trio of famous twentieth-century African Americans and two little-known Chinese” from, roughly, the 1930s through the advent of the Cold War.

Sergei Tretyakov is on something of a roll. The Soviet writer has featured in several recent books, including a new translation of (among other plays) Roar, China!, a new biography and a study of the Soviet-led drive for a “Leftist Literary Commons”. He also is a main character, arguably the protagonist, in Edward Tyerman’s Internationalist Aesthetics: China and Early Soviet Culture. China loomed large, both politically and culturally, in early Soviet thinking; this renewed attention coincides with today’s ever-closer Sino-Russian relations.

The Legend of Prince Golden Calf in China and Korea, Wilt L Idema and Allard M Olof (Cambria Press, January 2022)
The Legend of Prince Golden Calf in China and Korea, Wilt L Idema and Allard M Olof (Cambria Press, January 2022)

Recent research in China and Korea has revealed that the tale of a prince who is turned into a calf originated in China, as early as the late sixth century when it was written up as a jataka tale. The Chinese version that circulated in Korea most likely also was composed in China. While these early versions dropped from circulation in China, the story survived there in several versions, for instance as a precious scroll. The story also continued to circulate there, just as in Korea, as a popular folk tale.

All Mine!: Happiness, Ownership, and Naming in Eleventh-Century China, Stephen Owen (Columbia University Press) Columbia University Press
All Mine!: Happiness, Ownership, and Naming in Eleventh-Century China, Stephen Owen (Columbia University Press)

Under the Song Dynasty, China experienced rapid commercial growth and monetization of the economy. In the same period, the austere ethical turn that led to neo-Confucianism was becoming increasingly prevalent in the imperial bureaucracy and literati culture. Tracing the influences of these trends in Chinese intellectual history, All Mine! explores the varied ways in which 11th-century writers worked through the conflicting values of this new world.

Writers did a lot of shouting during the establishment of the Soviet Union. The literary salons being empty, they had to harangue the people, be heard over the crowd, and, as Katerina Clark wryly points out in Eurasia Without Borders, they had to shout because their public could not always understand the language they spoke.