One of the most fascinating and mysterious literary phenomena is the process by which one author, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Dante, or in this case, Hafez, comes to loom so high above all their talented and successful contemporaries. Most poetry lovers outside of Iran will not recognize the names of any of Hafez’s rivals and colleagues, and would be surprised to learn that they once enjoyed reputations equal to his.

The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Chosŏn in Sinographic Writing, Si Nae Park (Columbia University Press, August 2020)
The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Chosŏn in Sinographic Writing, Si Nae Park (Columbia University Press, August 2020)

As the political, economic, and cultural center of Chosŏn Korea, eighteenth-century Seoul epitomized a society in flux: It was a bustling, worldly metropolis into which things and people from all over the country flowed. In this book, Si Nae Park examines how the culture of Chosŏn Seoul gave rise to a new vernacular narrative form that was evocative of the spoken and written Korean language of the time.

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.