In this extended essay, David Chaffetz, a scholar of Persian and related literary traditions who has lived for years in China and Southeast Asia, zeroes in on erasures in the history of these traditions: the brilliant and highly trained women virtuosos—poets, singers, and dancers—who cut a swath through the opulent courts of Iran, India, and China.

The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction, Manan Desai (Temple University Press, April 2020)
The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction, Manan Desai (Temple University Press, April 2020)

The United States of India shows how Indian and American writers in the United States played a key role in the development of anticolonial thought in the years during and immediately following the First World War. For Indians Lajpat Rai and Dhan Gopal Mukerji, and Americans Agnes Smedley, WEB Du Bois, and Katherine Mayo, the social and historical landscape of America and India acted as a reflective surface. Manan Desai considers how their interactions provided a “transnational refraction”—a political optic and discursive strategy that offered ways to imagine how American history could shed light on an anticolonial Indian future.

Toward the end of his life, Algernon Blackwood famously reminisced that “I used to tell strange, wild, improbable tales…” The tale of the friendship between Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzō would have met Blackwood’s standard—a look at Shanghai during those times, now nearly 100 years ago, suggests why.

Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture In Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou, David Chaffetz (Abbreviated Press, November 2019)
Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture In Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou, David Chaffetz (Abbreviated Press, November 2019)

The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. Wherever poetry, music and mime have been practised with virtuosity, great women performers always take centre stage. Traditional Asian divas are however less well known and understood among English language readers than the great divas of Mozart and Puccini. Whether from Shiraz at the court of the Injuids, from Delhi during the twilight of the Moghuls, or from Yangzhou under the last Ming emperors, these Asian divas constitute the first identifiably modern women.

In 1415, the English forces under Henry V inflicted a terrible defeat on the French army. After the battle, under a heap of dead soldiers, they found and captured a young man who turned out to be Charles, duc d’Orléans (1394-1465). He was taken to England and placed in honorable captivity, but Henry V ordered that he not be ransomed, so he remained in England until his release in 1440. During his 25 years in England, he learned English and wrote a great deal of well-regarded poetry in that language, and when he finally returned home it was remarked that his English was better than his French.