Rental Person Who Does Nothing is a memoir about a project—or perhaps even an experiment—by Shoji Morimoto. Morimoto’s wife encountered a blog post by therapist and self-help writer Jinnosuke Kokoroya that insisted that “people have value even if they do nothing”. Morimoto began to wonder if that is really true. And, if it is true, whether society has space for people who “do nothing”. After all, he was used to his boss telling him things like, “it makes no difference whether you’re here or not,” and “you’re a permanent vacancy.”

You never know what’ll show up in the archives. In 2015, Benjamin Penny stumbled across the 19th-century diaries of one Chaloner Alabaster in the Special Collections room of London’s SOAS. Alabaster left England in August 1855 to take up a position as “student interpreter” in the China Consular Service. He ended up making a career of it, but the diaries reproduced here end in 1856 when Alabaster was still a teenager.

In the late 19th century, a group of Mennonites leave Russia for what is now Uzbekistan. Driven out by Russian demands that the pacifist group make themselves available for conscription, and pushed forward by prophecies of the imminent return of Christ, over a hundred families travel in a grueling journey, eventually building a settlement and church that locals still remember fondly today.

On a trip many years ago to New Delhi, I was struck by an official memorial to Subhas Chandra Bose, the wartime leader of the Indian National Army, the Japan-affiliated force of Indians who fought against the British during the Second World War. India, of course, has a more complex view of the fight against Japan than other countries involved in the War—with these soldiers being contentious, debated and, at times, celebrated.

At the beginning of Once Our Lives, Qin Sun Stubis’s family memoir, the author’s grandmother feeds a beggar because she feels sorry for him. She is pregnant with the author’s father at the time and goes on to break the traditional month-long confinement after giving birth in order to continue giving food to the beggar. What ensues, according to the grandmother, is a curse that plagues her son throughout her life, and the family indeed meets with much hardship. But so did most people in China between the years of 1942 and 1975, the time in which most of the multi-generation story takes place.

Growing Up Asian in Black and White America, Julia Lee (Henry Holt and Co, April 2023)
Growing Up Asian in Black and White America, Julia Lee (Henry Holt and Co, April 2023)

When Julia Lee was fifteen, her hometown went up in smoke during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The daughter of Korean immigrant store owners in a predominantly Black neighborhood, Julia was taught to be grateful for the privilege afforded to her. However, the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, following the murder of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper, forced Julia to question her racial identity and complicity. She was neither Black nor white. So who was she?