Perumal Murugan’s Kazhimugham is an ugly novel. Ugly, that is, as Umberto Eco would have it: its subject is ugliness and it is a work that the author claims breaks the conventional rules of beauty.
Se-oh Yun—a reclusive young woman in her twenties—comes home to a fire in her apartment in which her father is badly injured. He dies shortly after the incident and the police are eager to close the case as a simple suicide motivated by her father’s debts. But Se-oh suspects foul play when she learns that a debt collector, Su-ho, had visited her father earlier that day.
A Korean nonagenarian learns on the news that the last remaining “comfort woman” is on her deathbed. The narrator, unnamed until the end of the book, is determined to meet this last victim: she wants to know if she knew the woman from 70 years earlier. She also wants to assure her that she’s not in fact the last one left. The narrator has never told anyone about her past—not even her siblings and their children; it’s finally a chance to talk about it.
Tragedy finds its ideal form when a good character is partially responsible for her own downfall, which should unfold with the slow and inexorable force of a moral sentencing. Or so said Aristotle. Likewise, an irresistible blend of pity, horror, and satisfaction emerges through each of Ha Seong-nan’s short stories in this new collection. Even if not all of Ha’s characters are “good”, they still prove to be pitifully wretched creatures.
Naguib Mahfouz was familiar to newspaper readers across Egypt for his column in the leading daily Al-Ahram, in which he reflected on issues of the day, from domestic and international events, politics and economics to culture. This volume brings together his articles written between January 1989 and the knife attack in October 1994 that almost ended his life.
Chinese remains inaccessible to most English-speakers; Chinese poetry doubly so, so Western readers should be grateful to Zephyr Press for issuing these two excellent bilingual versions of contemporary Chinese poetry, which introduce us to two unfamiliar and very different voices, Ya Shi from the mainland, and Wu Sheng from Taiwan.
A compilation of reviews and other coverage in the past twelve months for Women in Translation month (August 2020): by author, translator and language. Click on the “link” symbol over each cover for the review, author, translator and publisher information.