At first glance, the only thing linking the stories in Rebecca Otowa’s new book, The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper, is that they all take place in Japan. Yet although they span 17th-century Edo to the present day, two themes recur in most: women’s hardships and the fears of ageing. It quickly becomes clear how, in Japan at least, these two themes are closely related.   

The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories from Japan, Rebecca Otowa (Tuttle, March 2020)
The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories from Japan, Rebecca Otowa (Tuttle, March 2020)

From the unique standpoint of an American woman who married into a Japanese family and has lived in Japan for more than thirty years, Rebecca Otowa weaves enchanting tales of her adopted home that portray the perspective of both the Japanese and the foreigner on the universal issues that face us all—love, work, marriage, death, and family conflict.

Karine Khodikyan is one of Armenia’s foremost writers, with a body of work encompassing plays, film and TV scripts, fiction, and journalism. Armenian literature, like others of the Caucasus, is surely under-represented in the English-speaking world, but now Khodikyan’s collection of short fiction, The Door Was Open, has—via Nazareth Seferian’s smooth translation—been made available in English with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia. 

Surrealism is something of an outlier in mainstream English fiction, yet it seems to crop up with some frequency in contemporary Chinese-language literature, at least in those works that find themselves in English-translation. This penchant for surrealism can seem even more pronounced, or perhaps concentrated, in the wider Chinese world and diaspora: Dorothy Tse, Hon Lai-Chu and Dung Kai-Cheung in Hong Kong and Malaysia’s Ng Kim Chew being among the practitioners. The surrealism central to this newly-translated collection by Ho Sok Fong fits right in.