The First Emperor, founder of the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) and even “China” writ large by some accounts, is a well-known historical figure. The excavation and subsequent global circulation of the Terracotta Warriors, crafted to guard his tomb, have given rise to a certain “Qinomania” Stories of the entombed ruler only heighten the fascination of the mass-produced and life-sized soldiers. Born into a hostage situation, the man known as Ying Zheng broke with the past, burned books, and buried scholars alive as he forged a new kind of centralized state. He survived assassination attempts and became infamously obsessed with a doomed quest for immortality. But how do we really know what we know about this world-shaking unifier of “all under heaven”? 

The prolific career of acclaimed mystery and detective fiction author Seicho Matsumoto spanned the latter half of the 20th century. His 1958 novel, Tokyo Express, provides a glimpse into daily life during the postwar period in Japan. Previously published in English a generation ago under the title Points and Lines, the novel has been freshly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. As Kiichi Mihara of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police connects the dots of the case, he relies on the country’s reliable and punctual train system. His investigation is supported by veteran Jutaro Torigai of the Fukuoka Police.

In her new book High, Erika Fatland traverses the Himalaya. Her journey starts in Kashgar in Western China. From her starting point in Xinjiang, she crosses the border into Pakistan and travels down the Karakorum highway onto Gilgit, Chitral and the Swat Valley. Dropping down to Lahore her journey takes her across the Punjab and into Indian Kashmir, then Leh, Manali, Dharmsala, Darjeeling and Sikkim before venturing onto Bhutan and Arunachal and Assam. Then in a second later trip to Nepal, Fatland goes trekking to Everest base camp, down to Lumbini and onto Upper Mustang then to before crossing into Tibet and onto Lake Manasarovar. After a short visit to a tightly-controlled Lhasa, her journey finishes in Zhongdian, the so-called Shangri La in Yunnan province. 

Was Prince Siddhartha’s wife Yasodhara so awful that he felt compelled to renounce everything to get away from it all? So runs, at least, a misogynistic joke about the story of Buddha’s life and Enlightenment. The question remains, however, and in recent times, this story has been revisited in fiction to imagine the circumstances that could have led to his departure from worldly affairs.

The Tokaido is the most famous route in Japan, linking its two major population centers: Kanto (essentially Tokyo and its suburbs) and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Daimyo, local rulers of Japan’s regions, were required to spend one year out of every two at the capital (then named Edo), and so had to cross the country on a regular basis. The Tokaido was the main route for those coming from the West, making it the central artery of early modern Japanese travel.

A young sake bar owner, Yusuke Shimoki, arrives on the doorstep of Hannah Kirshner’s Brooklyn apartment “with a suitcase full of Ishikawa sake,” in Hannah’s words. That visit sparked a years-long connection between Hannah and the rural Japanese community of Yamanaka, a home for artisans and artists, hunters and farmers, and other ordinary Japanese trying to live in the countryside.