In his foreword to this anthology, Jonathan Stalling eloquently describes how “Taiwan literature, like its complex writing systems, exists as a palimpsest of the cultural contact points, overlapping languages, peoples, and histories that have paved the way for one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the Sinosphere and the world beyond.” The aptness of this delightful description is borne out by what follows, namely 11 diverse, yet eminently readable, short stories and essays written between 1976 and 2013.
To get the details out of the way first: Alisa Ganieva is a Russian writer of Avar/Dagestani extraction. She has been called “the first Dagestani author to have their [sic] work translated into English”, and her most recent translated novel, the 2015 Bride and Groom—which was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize—is set in the Muslim-majority and turbulent Caucasus region of Dagestan.
Literature from Central Asia in English is rare; it may even be rare in the original, untranslated, given the relatively small populations and some seven decades of Soviet linguistic, literary and cultural oppression. In any event, it appears that there are just two works of Turkmen fiction available in English, both by the dissident, and exiled, writer Ak Welsapar: the novel The Tale of Aypi and this recently published collection of short stories.
Sex and death, the twin yet conflicting human compulsions identified by Freud, abound in this vivid and sensual epic of love and loss set against the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.
Moscow’s Red Square and Bangkok’s Imperial Queen’s Park wouldn’t seem to have much in common but for the main characters in Anatoly Kurchatkin’s enjoyable and fascinating novel Tsunami, translated by Arch Tait from the original Russian, there is much that unites these disparate locales.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively small size, Taiwan has had a turbulent and diverse history that has seen it endure dictatorship during the 20th century, Japanese colonization, and being a minor part of the Qing Dynasty. But before all this, the island, then known as Formosa, was the prize of a mighty struggle between the Dutch and a Ming Dynasty pirate-nobleman almost 400 years ago. Lord of Formosa—first published in Dutch in 2015—is the story of Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, the son of a Chinese nobleman and a Japanese woman, and how he won Taiwan from the Dutch.