Very few people (other than Anthony Janson in his monumental History of Art, published in 1968) would attempt to write a history of an entire country’s art, and even fewer could do it in one volume and cover a period from 15,000 BCE right up to the present day. Professor Tsuji does this for Japanese art with ease, elegance, humor and consummate erudition in an attractive volume printed on first-class paper and packed with quality color and black-and-white illustrations. What’s more, it isn’t a large format coffee-table book like Janson’s, which means a reader can actually curl up on a chair and read it quite comfortably. As Tsuji says, though, “to survey the vast sweep of Japanese art history was a great challenge and a daunting task;” but we are lucky that he also tells us “not only did no such book exist, but I needed one myself!”
Earnshaw Books, an independent publisher specializing in China matters, has recently issued two books featuring westerners sojourning in China over a period of a century and a half. Frances Wood, a respected scholar of Chinese history, presents the account of Aeneas Anderson, who served as a valet to Lord Macartney when the latter led an embassy to the court of the Qianlong emperor (1792) and Graham Earnshaw introduces a book of photographs taken by Isabella Bird on her travels through China in 1898.
Serendipity, we may say, is a wonderful thing sometimes. Here are both a newly expanded edition of Hinton’s translation of Tu Fu’s poems, and at the same time his book about Tu Fu’s life as exemplified in an examination of some of these poems as they relate to the poet’s precipitous journey through life.
Trans-culturalism is personified in the life and career of Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904).
In 1415, the English forces under Henry V inflicted a terrible defeat on the French army. After the battle, under a heap of dead soldiers, they found and captured a young man who turned out to be Charles, duc d’Orléans (1394-1465). He was taken to England and placed in honorable captivity, but Henry V ordered that he not be ransomed, so he remained in England until his release in 1440. During his 25 years in England, he learned English and wrote a great deal of well-regarded poetry in that language, and when he finally returned home it was remarked that his English was better than his French.
Manu S Pillai, the acclaimed author of a monumental historical study, The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore (2015), presents himself here in a somewhat lighter vein, with a series of essays on interesting personalities, known and unknown, from Indian history both before and during British rule.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, as it’s usually titled by scholars and translators, may in fact not be an epic at all. It’s not even a single poem, but “a confusion of stories”, a number of reassembled fragments and tablets in more than one ancient language plus an “edition” assembled and organised out of scattered bits by one Sin-leqi-unninni, who between 1300 and 1000 BCE made what we would now call a “standardized text” out of it, adding, as Schmidt tells us, “prefatory lines … and a reprise that echoes the opening but in a darker tone.”