Bandes dessinées are a francophone tradition; to call them “comic books” is do to them a disservice. The English term “graphic novel” isn’t quite right either, since a bande dessinée might, as is this one, be non-fiction; and while the artwork in contemporary English-language comics is not as dire as it once was, the emphasis is, as the term implies, as often as not on “graphics” rather than work in traditional media.
Approximately 180km east of the Middle Kingdom sits an island state commonly referred to as “The Bicycle Kingdom”. If you live in Japan, Europe, or North America and own a bicycle, there is a good chance that a number of its parts were manufactured in Taiwan. From ultra-light carbon fibre frames and the latest electric, smart and green technologies to various bike components ranging from tires, pedals, chains, saddles, grips, and even bike carriers for vehicles, Taiwan’s bicycle industry remains a global leader despite recent declines in exports and sales.
In one nightmarish vignette from his 1990 film Dreams the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa imagines how life might look and feel following a nuclear meltdown in Japan. With the breach of six nuclear reactors, Japan’s residents flee to the sea, where most of them eventually drown, leaving a handful of humans amidst a radioactive landscape of blackened earth and sky. The only other living organisms are immense mutant dandelions, whose weighty yellow flower heads tower over the human figures. Twenty-one years later, the imagined world of nuclear disaster became reality when the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident.
That there are over 800,000 ethnic Koreans living permanently in Japan, including fourth and fifth generation Korean-Japanese, is not well known outside of Asia. The historical details of how the Koreans came to live in Japan is both fascinating and tragic, mainly because of the conscript labor forced on Koreans during Japanese occupation of the peninsula beginning over 100 years ago and ending with World War II. Even less well known is the discrimination the Korean-Japanese face in their adopted, officially or not, country. Known in Japan as Zainichi (“resident of Japan”), the ethnic Koreans have been largely relegated to marginal occupations as were other minority groups in Japan. That is changing, but discrimination and hate still exist.
Might Hamid Ismailov’s The Devils’ Dance open Central Asian literature to the world as Gabriel García Márquez’s novels did for Latin America? Probably not—things rarely work out like that—but perhaps it deserves to.
Thirteenth-century China is a time of mayhem, when wandering heroes and martial masters must choose their side in a conflict between the Jurchen Jin invaders from the North and the dispersed and submissive remains of the Song dynasty.
The misdirection starts with the novel’s cover. Hasan Ali Toptas’s Shadowless is, in spite of its title, full of shadows.