A discovery in the history of art is a discovery like any other, so wrote in 1913 Friedrich Perzynski, a German art dealer, in Hunt for the Gods, an account of his exploits in China the year before. This was a time of turmoil. A dynasty had just fallen and the capital Beijing was humming with activity, as artefacts from all over the country were resurfacing in the open or in back rooms. Foreign archeologists, dealers and curators, who had been coming in growing numbers, marveled at the remnants of a civilization that only then was starting to be known.

Moïse de Camondo came from one of the most prominent Jewish families in 19th-century Constantinople, but in 1869 at the age of nine he moved with his family to a new promised land for Jews: Paris. At the conclusion of the French Revolution almost a century earlier, France became the only nation in Europe to grant citizenship to Jews. The Camondo family and many others around Europe and Russia, including the Ephrussi family from Odessa, built homes on the Rue de Monceau in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. Edmund de Waal, author of the best-selling memoir, The Hare With Amber Eyes, is a descendant of the Ephrussis and a distant relative of the Camondos. His latest book is a collection of imaginary letters to the late Moïse de Camondo from the archives of Moïse’s former residence, the Musée de Camondo. 

On January 10th, 1795, a very tired caravan arrives in Beijing. The travelers have journeyed from Canton on an accelerated schedule through harsh terrain in order to make it to the capital in time for the Qianlong Emperor’s sixtieth anniversary of his reign. The group is led by two Dutchmen: Isaac Titsingh and Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, who are there to represent the interests of the Dutch Republic at the imperial court. It’s a momentous occasion, especially after the disastrous British Embassy from George Macartney two years earlier.

Passing for Perfect: College Impostors and Other Model Minorities, erin Khuê Ninh (Temple University Press, 2021)
Passing for Perfect: College Impostors and Other Model Minorities, erin Khuê Ninh (Temple University Press, 2021)

In her engaging study, Passing for Perfect, erin Khuê Ninh considers the factors that drove college imposters such as Azia Kim—who pretended to be a Stanford freshman—and Jennifer Pan—who hired a hitman to kill her parents before they found out she had never received her high school diploma—to extreme lengths to appear successful. Why would someone make such an illogical choice? And how do they stage these lies so convincingly, and for so long?

It is tempting to see Anuk Arudpragasam’s new novel A Passage North, set in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, as having political intent. It undoubtedly does: it is set around the dutiful visit of Krishan, a Tamil living in Colombo, to Sri Lanka’s war-scarred Northern Province for the funeral of Rani, his grandmother’s erstwhile care-taker, herself damaged by the war that took her two sons.

Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.

Spectators at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1611 thrilled to the scenic realism of the Tempest. In the opening scene, a ship founders to the cries and alarms of her drowning sailors. But among those spectators some would nevertheless invest their private fortunes in the first ships to be sent by a  newly chartered trading company to the farthest known seas. They were the initial investors in the East India Company and their ships were destined to reach Japan.