It’s a well-worn assertion, even a cliché, that art and spirituality are inextricably linked. A concrete representation of the subject for religious meditation is, we could say, a visible aid to devotion: not so much the object itself, but what it symbolizes, which is important to the viewer (or listener if it’s music).
For some men, getting to know a woman isn’t quite what it seems. In this quirky collection of stories by Xu Xu, we can read about a man who dates a would-be ghost, another takes up with a supposedly mentally-challenged girl who has conversations with birds and eventually becomes a Buddhist nun, a third hooks up in a pro forma marriage (which later becomes real) with a mysterious Jewish woman whom a new acquaintance has asked him to help get to Europe, and a fourth falls in love with a strange girl who eventually kills herself after telling her tragic personal story to the narrator.
“And he gathered them together in a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16). Armageddon. The word sends shivers up the spine; it’s the place where, according to the imaginative interpretation of some, the final battle between the forces of good and evil will be fought. It’s mentioned twelve times in the Old Testament and once only in the New, quoted above.
India has suffered much from stereotyping, particularly at the hands of Western historians. It has been dismissed as being almost stagnant until Western encroachments somehow woke it up, and it’s been regarded as isolated from surrounding territories, somehow evolving on its own first as “a self-generated Hindu and Sanskritic civilization”, as Richard M Eaton puts it in this new book. From 1000 to 1800 CE historical convention labels this time-span “the Muslim period”, although the inhabitants of India habitually referred to their conquerors not as Muslims but “Turks”, an ethnographical term rather than a religious one. Eaton notes that in the case of Central and South America, historians usually refer to the “Spanish” (or Portuguese) conquest, rather than the “Christian” conquest, and he rightly wonders why this should be the case, since forced conversion of native populations was almost as important as gold and silver.
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.
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.
“For sothe he was a worthy man withalle.” Thus Chaucer, perhaps somewhat ironically (when Chaucer says “worthy”, there’s often a catch) describing the Merchant in the “General Prologue” to his Canterbury Tales. This brief description, minus any irony, would certainly fit Shinohara Chūemon (1809-1891), the merchant who is one lynch-pin of Simon Partner’s enjoyable, beautifully-researched and fascinating account of Japan a few years after what Western writers are pleased to call its “opening” in 1853.