The story begins in Jakarta, a hubbub of street vendors, motorbikes, and calls to prayer from mosque loudspeakers. “Travelling is the most ancient desire”, writes Intan Paramaditha in her first novel, a choose-your-own-adventure story published this February as global mobility ground to a halt. The wandering narrator, addressed in the second person befitting the conventions of the form, travels along multiple routes to Berlin, New York, and even outer space as she faces ordeals that illustrate the privileges of going abroad and the limitations of individual choice.

Kim Ayami is a twenty-eight year old woman and law-school dropout who wants to be an actress, but appears to have been not very good at it, as she has only acted in one production and is now working at a theatre for the blind in Seoul after a number of stints as a waitress. It’s her last day there, though, because the theatre, the only one of its kind, is closing down and Ayami faces the uncertainty of unemployment, as she has no formal qualifications for another job.

My Village: Selected Poems 1972-2014, Wu Sheng, John Balcom (trans) (Zephyr Press, May 2020)
My Village: Selected Poems 1972-2014, Wu Sheng, John Balcom (trans) (Zephyr Press, May 2020)

Wu Sheng has written vivid poems about rural life and the land since the 1960s, when he became one of Taiwan’s most popular poets. His poems are rooted in the soil, imbued with an unshakable affinity for the people who till it, sweat over it, and eventually are buried in it, and serve as his personal response to the industrialization, urbanization and globalization of his vanishing world.

In the newly-translated I Live in the Slums, her first collection of short stories in a decade, Chinese writer Can Xue invites us on a bizarre, at times whimsical, dark and unclassifiable journey exploring the terrain of and interaction with China’s urban geography. She keeps with her unique unconventional voice, as is best known in her earlier novels such as Love in the New Millennium, and Frontier.

Not everyone takes to magical realism, with the “one hundred years” in Gabriel García Márquez’s groundbreaking work being taken as a description of the time needed to finish it. Since that, the “magical realism label” has been assigned to a bandwagon’s-worth of Latin American writers, from Isabel Allende to Laura Esquivel and, more recently, Junot Diaz. The influence has extended very far afield, it seems, for García Márquez’s book and characters are even alluded to in Shokoofeh Azar’s Farsi novel, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, now available in English.

If you are like most English-language readers, then indigenous writing from Taiwan in English translation will be largely, if not entirely, terra incognita, which is one reason among many why the publication of Sakinu Ahronglong’s Hunter School, which is about one non-Han indigenous tribe in particular, is important. As translator Darryl Sterk explains in his brief introduction, Sakinu speaks Paiwanese, an Austronesian language that, according to the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis, shares a common ancestor with Polynesian languages as well as Tagalog, Malay, Hawaiian, and Maori. And as Sakinu himself informs his readers in his own introduction, the reconstruction of Paiwan culture, under threat by external forces, not only provides the impetus behind the text, but also an underlying life’s purpose.   

Floral Mutter, Ya Shi, Nick Admussen (trans) (Zephyr Press, March 2020) Poetry
Floral Mutter, Ya Shi, Nick Admussen (trans) (Zephyr Press, March 2020)

A math teacher by day, Ya Shi lives 1,000 miles from the Beijing literary scene, but is celebrated among lovers of Chinese poetry from the conservative to the avant-garde. His jagged and intense short lyrics, wild nature sonnets, punchy couplets, and genre-bending, surreal poetic essays daringly combine iconoclasm and heart.