South Asia is a literary universe unto itself. It is home to hundreds of languages intersecting in multiple ways with history, ritual, and traditions of the classical Sanskrit as well as vernacular orality. In Sensitive Reading: The Pleasures of South Asian Literature in Translation, editors Yigal Bronner and Charles Hallisey put together a set of texts from multiple languages translated by renowned Indologist David Shulman (along with works of music as well as a work of visual art). The chosen texts all to a greater or lesser extent deal with love—declarations of love, desire, longing, love for the divine, and the pain of separation. Their curation brings together the classics from the ancient and medieval periods in Indian history with a smattering of works closer to the present—19th and 20th centuries.
Satya Vyas’s 2015 bestselling campus novel Banaras Talkies—telling the stories of three undergraduate friends who have just started law school—has recently been translated into English by Himadri Agarwal and is full of humor, wit, and undergraduate antics.
Sayaka Murata’s English-language debut novel, Convenience Store Woman, caused a sensation when it appeared in a 2018 translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori. The story of an offbeat, thirty-something sales clerk at a “Smile Mart” helped spur a boom in English-language translations of Japanese literature, especially literature by women.
Naraach, meaning weapon, is the original title of this absorbing historical epic, first published in Bengali. It sums up the novel’s purpose: a blistering indictment of the abuse of women in 19th-century Bengal.
Erika Kobayashi’s recently-translated Trinity, Trinity, Trinity is the latest in a long, rich, and complicated history of atomic literature from Japan.
Though death looms in Amanat: Women’s Writing From Kazakhstan, the collection sounds a celebratory note.
The Medieval Iranians, no less than we today, sought answers to questions about far-away countries and events of old. We consult Google or Wikipedia. They looked into epic poetry and romances. Since literature in those days had both to entertain and instruct, the stories they read about Korea, China, Khazaria and Spain also spoke of monsters, wizards and moon-faced beauties. The biggest difference between their curiosity and ours is that they emphasized wisdom over knowledge. Even a legend can be rich in initiatic truths.