Having recently reviewed Matty Weingast’s attractive collection of poems from the Therigatha, I was somewhat surprised to see that Shambhala had decided to reissue an newly-expanded version of Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha (1996), given that the female half was already available in Weingast’s excellent and sensitively-handled new version. However, in addition to the fact that this edition includes male poets, the choice of female poets is not always identical, and of course it’s also interesting to see how different translators treat the same poems.
Alan Mikhail’s much-publicized and lavishly-illustrated new book on Selim I, which he calls “a revisionist account, providing a new and more holistic picture of the last five centuries,” would seem, at first, to be a very welcome addition to a rather sparse list of books, especially biographies, on Ottoman sultans.
What do you do with a gang of monks who have been condemned to death for immorality? If you are King Rama II of Siam (1809-24), you commute their sentences to hard labor, which consists of making them cut grass for your elephants every day. This is one example of the sometimes quirky humanity of the Chakri Dynasty, which, as royal houses go, is a relative newcomer, having been founded only in 1784.
“As soon as he took his first spear, he writhed in pain. Leaking urine and making a miserable spectacle, he took nine spears.” The gruesome and cruel execution of one Heizō Takamiya described here took place in Osaka in 1829; the unfortunate Heizō was accompanied by five other people, one a woman (Toyoda Mitsugi) and four others who were already dead and had been pickled in salt so that their remains could be symbolically crucified and methodically stabbed with spears as a form of humiliation.
Chinese remains inaccessible to most English-speakers; Chinese poetry doubly so, so Western readers should be grateful to Zephyr Press for issuing these two excellent bilingual versions of contemporary Chinese poetry, which introduce us to two unfamiliar and very different voices, Ya Shi from the mainland, and Wu Sheng from Taiwan.
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.