In the annals of Russian and Soviet literature and drama, Sergei Tretyakov is not perhaps the first name on the list. He remains, says Robert Leach, “curiously elusive”. Yet he was “absolutely at the heart of avant-garde modernism”, collaborating closely with Sergei Eisenstein, “one of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s most intimate associates” and an influence on Bertolt Brecht. This new and accessible literary biography brings the man and his work to life, and reinstates him at the center of some of the 20th-century’s most important cultural developments, a dynamic life cut short when in 1937 he, like so many others, fell foul of Josef Stalin.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) is perhaps the most famous example of a multicultural writer in the history of British literature. His novels have been translated, serialized, made into movies, and taught at numerous schools and universities throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. His multicultural credentials are impressive: he was born Józef Teodor Nalęcz (Ian Burnet misses this one in his recent study: it was the name of the Polish noble family to which Conrad belonged) Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychev, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire and formerly a town in the Kingdom of Poland. His father Apollo was a Polish poet, translator of Shakespeare and a dedicated Polish patriot. Conrad’s first language was Polish, of course, and he learned Latin at school, but he added German, French and finally English to the list. He also knew some Russian but avoided using it for patriotic reasons. 

Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.

Lafcadio Hearn, born of an Irish surgeon and a Greek mother, became known later in life as Koizumi Yakumo after marrying in Japan and taking Japanese citizenship to preserve his wife’s inheritance. Hearn or Koizumi was a journalist and an author, and one of the early English writers to introduce Japan to the outside world during the Meiji era. Two recent novels—The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong and Black Dragonfly by Jean Pasley—have centered around his life, but in two very different ways.

Top Graduate Zhang Xie: The Earliest Extant Chinese Southern Play, Regina S Llamas (trans, intro) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)
Top Graduate Zhang Xie: The Earliest Extant Chinese Southern Play, Regina S Llamas (trans, intro) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)

Top Graduate Zhang Xie is the first extant play in the Chinese southern dramatic tradition and a milestone in the history of Chinese literature. Dating from the early fifteenth century, but possibly composed earlier, it is the work of a writing club called the Nine Mountain Society.

If anyone thought Sei Shōnagon (ca 964-after 1027) was little more than a gossipy, snooty, disingenuously prim and sometimes acerbic observer of life at the effete Heian court of ancient Japan, here is a book to prove that notion completely wrong. Not only can her classic Pillow Book be read on several levels, but it has enjoyed a life of its own as different generations of readers interpret it and reimagine it.