Lee Geum-yi has published more than fifty books in her native South Korea, many of which have been adapted to film and stage, as well as into a number of languages. But it’s only now that one has been translated into English. That book is The Picture Bride, a story set mainly in a Korean enclave on Hawai’i in the 1910s. Lee’s stories often involve little-told pieces of history and The Picture Bride is no exception.
Sati Mookherjee’s grandfather was arrested 17 years before India gained independence and went into exile in the UK. He returned to India in 1939 when England entered World War II. Mookherjee’s debut, Eye, based on her grandfather’s memoirs, is not a traditional collection of poetry, but rather a series of just three poems that give a vivid sense of his experiences during this historic era.
Towards the beginning of his new memoir, Stay True, Hua Hsu tells how he dreamed of becoming a writer during his first year of university in the 1990s, but quickly came to the conclusion that it was not to be. He submitted pieces to his campus paper, The Daily Cal, at the University of California at Berkeley, which were not just rejected; they were ignored. He was able to successfully publish with an Asian American campus newspaper and a Chinatown community paper for which he wrote about film, art and theater.
One of Korea’s most renowned 20th century authors, Pak Kyongni often wrote stories set in the aftermath of the war and during the several military dictatorships. Pak passed away in 2008, but her work has been revived in English with a recent collection in translation, The Age of Doubt. These seven stories are all set in the 1950s and ’60s, a far cry from the glitz and glamor of modern-day Seoul. Each of the seven stories, furthermore, is translated by a different translator. While the stories differ, and not just in translator, a similar sense of darkness pervades all of them.
All families have their stories, and for families scattered around the world, as Teresa Lim’s is, the stories often have a central pivot decades or generations back. Lim’s family story gets going, if not starts, with her maternal great-great grandfather who emigrated to Singapore from Southern China at the end of the 19th-century. Draught and famine caused many able-bodied men to leave for more prosperous shores; the Chinese Exclusion Act had closed off the US, and Singapore was, in any event, closer.
Memoirs and biographies of prisoners of war during World War II are not uncommon, but accounts of women POWs remain relatively rare. In Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra: Faith, Hope and Survival, Barbara Coombes tells the story of two British women who were captured by the Japanese military after they tried to leave Singapore by boat a couple months after the city came under attack. They were sent to POW camps on Sumatra. Coombes’s book almost reads like a first-hand account because she includes many pieces of poetry, letters, and sketches from the two women she portrays.
Dragons have been a staple of folklore across Asia, but in literature, at least in English, dragons have mostly been of the Western variety. This may be changing, at least in children’s books. Two authors have recently used dragons in their stories., both set in Japan, or a fantasy world based on Japan, and both feature relationships between pre-teens and their aging grandparents.