Among all European countries, Russia’s relations with China are unique in that the two countries—empires for most of their relevant histories—shared a border. Trade between the two was, on the whole, carried out by caravan rather than ship; there were border garrisons a stone’s throw from each other. People and information transited the border along with goods.
In the summer of 1924, Soviet playwright Sergei Tretyakov took up a one-year appointment as Professor of Russian at the University of Beijing. He returned with material that resulted in the 1926 play Roar, China!, based upon a historical incident in Wanhsien in which an American businessman drowned after an argument with a local boatman. The captain of the British gunboat Cockchafer, which happened to be in the area, demanded that when the ferryman could not be found and executed, two other men be executed instead or he would bombard the town.
Run Me to Earth opens in war-torn Laos in 1969. Three teens—Alisak, his friend Prany and Prany’s younger sister, Noi—freelance in a ruined French villa now serving as a makeshift hospital. They care for each other, ride motorcycles through obstacle courses of unexploded ordnance, and are looked after by, and look after, Vang, a young doctor who finds his own refuge in an abandoned piano and alcohol.
Perhaps because Central Asia is still off the beaten track, it attracts its fair share of travel writers, maybe more than its fair share, from the venerable Colin Thurbon (who has two, The Lost Heart of Asia and Shadow of the Silk Road), two by horse (The Last Secrets of the Silk Road by Alexandra Tolstoy and On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope) and the cleverly-entitled Out of Steppe by Daniel Metcalfe and Postcards from Stanland by David Mould. Fortunately for Erika Fatland, the region is changing so quickly that no one, not even Thurbon, remains definitive for long: there’s always room for a new entry.
One has to be pretty dedicated to Russian literature to run across Alexander Grin (1880-1932). Nor, if this newly translated collection of (long) short stories is any indication, once one has found him, does Grin fit any expected mold.
From being targets of American soft-power, a significant service export and a major financial prop for institutions of higher-learning suffering from uncooperative demographics and withdrawal of government funding, Chinese students in the US have recently come to be seen—in certain quarters, anyway—as vehicles for Chinese government influence. Yingyi Ma’s new study—based on data collected mostly in what were still the halcyon days of 2013-16—does not deal with these issues. But it attempts to explain what Chinese students in the US think about themselves and their journey, and might therefore usefully inform the rising debate.
Liam Wong’s debut collection of photography, the eponymously entitled TO:KY:OO, brings together several trends that someone more au courant with the cultural zeitgeist than I perhaps would have already been familiar with. I had, for example, to look up what “cyberpunk” actually meant and can’t myself say whether the photographs in this collection are “cyberpunk-inspired” or are instead influenced by other, more mainstream, traditions. I am perhaps on firmer ground saying that they are vibrant, pulsating and hypnotic.