Over the course of thirty-seven fragments, an elderly man coming to an understanding of his world tells the “story” of his village: chronicles of a village serves as an indictment of History for what it leaves out. The narrator often offers a curiously romantic view of a pastoral world that is being overtaken by the outside world, and as a celebration/tribute/elegy for his father, mother, and brother. 

“Perhaps you could call it a stroke of karmic good fortune that I was able to experience a once-in-a-century flood only three and a half months after moving to Chennai.” So opens Yūka Ishii’s The Mud of a Century, winner of the 2017 Akutagawa Prize. The novella’s narrator, a Japanese woman in her mid-late twenties, has found a temporary job teaching Japanese in Chennai (the erstwhile Madras), India to a small class of computer programmers employed by an IT company.

Siddhartha Deb’s The Light at the End of the World is a massive novel filled with conspiracies, uncertainty, madness and marvels, the inability to process the wide array of what is noticed and reported, and, indeed, what counts as reality. Here is the world, specifically India, except it isn’t. As one character responds in a quasi-interrogation to her alleged “betrayal” of India: “India is not a nation but a prisonhouse [sic] of possible nations.” As with India, so goes the world.

Vasily Eroshenko was a transnational writer working in the early 20th century, writing in a variety of languages ranging from Japanese and Russian to Esperanto as he moved about Europe and Asia. He was born in Ukraine and lived, among other places, in Russia, England, Japan, Myanmar, India, China, and the Soviet Union. His writings draw heavily from the political situations of these countries, as well as his own life as a blind musician, lecturer, translator, masseuse, and storyteller. 

Yoko Tawada is a compelling, prolific, and award-winning writer working in Japanese, German, and English. Three Streets is her most recent collection published in English, here not so much short stories as they are strolls through three streets in Berlin. Throughout her works, her narrators are often strangers in a strange land, living in between moments in history, cultures, and languages. Alternative worlds emerge from answers to any number of “what ifs”. The woman who narrates the first story in this collection, “Kollwitzstrasse”, sets the tone when she describes the child that accompanies her as she walks. Who the child is or where she came from is unknown.

“My watch reads ten o’clock,” opens Thuan’s Chinatown, a novel that displays a writer in full play with language and story-telling. Her narrator begins a two-hour interior monologue that is the bulk of the novel. She is on a stopped train in the Métro in Paris. Her twelve-year-old son is asleep against her shoulder. An unattended duffel bag has raised the uncertainty of a bomb. Most passengers have disembarked, opting for other ways to their destinations. Along with three others, the narrator sits. Her mind wanders through the jumble of experiences, emotions, and places she continues to live. At times, these are overwhelmed by the larger world, with forays into the massive emigration of Vietnamese to France, the collapse of the USSR, and the effects of such events on ordinary lives. She is thirty-nine, Vietnamese, a writer, and currently teaching in France.

Dung Kai-cheung’s A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On is an exercise in the influence of late-90s, mainly Japanese, popular culture on young women in end-of-the-century Hong Kong. The “catalog” consists of ninety-nine sketches, perhaps in an homage to Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, where Queneau took an unremarkable short episode and retold it in ninety-nine discursive styles. Queneau’s exercises are clever play with the structures and uses of language. Dung Kai-cheung’s catalog is a cultural “thick description” of popular culture filled with dry wit and humor. His sketches are not short stories. He offers flights of fancy.