The world is perhaps changing when translations from Chinese feature as the first volume in a series of just about anything. Two Lines Press, an independent publisher based in San Francisco, has recently launched the Calico Series of translated literature. “Each Calico is a vibrant snapshot that explores one aspect of the present moment, offering the voices of previously inaccessible, highly innovative writers from around the world.” That We May Live is the first in the series and features seven stories in translation from authors in Hong Kong and China.
In the summer of 1924, Soviet playwright Sergei Tretyakov took up a one-year appointment as Professor of Russian at the University of Beijing. He returned with material that resulted in the 1926 play Roar, China!, based upon a historical incident in Wanhsien in which an American businessman drowned after an argument with a local boatman. The captain of the British gunboat Cockchafer, which happened to be in the area, demanded that when the ferryman could not be found and executed, two other men be executed instead or he would bombard the town.
Residents of Qingdao or attentive followers of local news may have heard of the affair I wish to discuss. On the 14th of August 2013, during a routine fire-safety inspection, a worker from the residential committee of Shinan District’s University Road discovered a heavily decomposed corpse by a small building inside the courtyard of Number 5 Longkou Road.
Seishi Yokomizo’s The Honjin Murders, published in Japan in 1946 and now available in English for the first time, employs the plot tricks of early European and American mystery writers to tell the story of a rapidly changing Japanese society around the time of the Second World War.
“Dissatisfaction with the womanly rôle,” the psychologist Alfred Adler wrote in Understanding Human Nature (1927), “is … more evident among [women] who escape from life because of some so-called ‘higher reasons’. Nuns, or others who assume some occupation for which celibacy is an essential, are a case in point.” Adler, of course, was not judging such women negatively, as he felt that women should not have to be controlled by the patriarchal nature of 20th-century society and that they should be able to develop their own roles.
Early in The Aosawa Murders, Riku Onda writes that “it’s impossible to ever really know the truth behind events,” setting the tone of the mystery surrounding a horrible mass murder in 1970s Japan in which seventeen people are poisoned by cyanide after drinking a toast with sake and soft drinks. What starts as a jovial birthday party for three generations of the Aosawa family ends in the family, their relatives, and friends dying in agony. The only survivor in the Aosawa family is Hisako, their blind teenage daughter.
One has to be pretty dedicated to Russian literature to run across Alexander Grin (1880-1932). Nor, if this newly translated collection of (long) short stories is any indication, once one has found him, does Grin fit any expected mold.