Moïse de Camondo came from one of the most prominent Jewish families in 19th-century Constantinople, but in 1869 at the age of nine he moved with his family to a new promised land for Jews: Paris. At the conclusion of the French Revolution almost a century earlier, France became the only nation in Europe to grant citizenship to Jews. The Camondo family and many others around Europe and Russia, including the Ephrussi family from Odessa, built homes on the Rue de Monceau in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. Edmund de Waal, author of the best-selling memoir, The Hare With Amber Eyes, is a descendant of the Ephrussis and a distant relative of the Camondos. His latest book is a collection of imaginary letters to the late Moïse de Camondo from the archives of Moïse’s former residence, the Musée de Camondo.
It was perhaps inevitable that Chinese memoirs in translation would move on from those whose authors date from the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution. Cai Chongda is a popular millennial writer and fashion executive who became the youngest editorial director in the GQ franchise. His memoir, Vessel, was a bestseller in China a half-dozen years ago and is now available in English in a translation by Dylan Levi King.
The narrator in Pik-Shuen Fung’s debut novel, Ghost Forest, is a child in an “astronaut” family. As anyone who has ever orbited Hong Kong knows, this term was coined there to describe families that emigrated—usually to Canada, Australia or the United States—while the fathers stay back to work, “flying here, flying there”. It’s a resulting father-daughter relationship that provides the backbone of Fung’s novel, arranged as a collection of related vignettes, mostly one or two pages, but sometimes consisting of only several words.
Daisy and Tom, Nick and Gatsby. There’s something perpetually alluring about the Jazz Age. Nghi Vo’s reworking of the iconic The Great Gatsby in her debut, The Chosen and the Beautiful, boldly inserts Jordan Baker, a bisexual Vietnamese adoptee, into the original story with the original characters (something only really possible since the beginning of this year when the copyright of Fitzgerald’s novel ran out; it’s now in the public domain). This rewrite shakes up the homogeneity of the story yet stays true (in its way) to the Fitzgerald original.
Anti-miscegenation laws—laws prohibiting interracial marriage and relationships—plagued the United States and were a part of the American fabric for centuries, some lasting until the 1960s. Tom Lin frames his debut novel, The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, around this issue as the eponymous protagonist of the story was married to a white woman until her father and the local law enforcement put an end to it. Ming Tsu is now out for revenge. He’s also an assassin by trade.
In Angela Mi Young Hur’s new novel, Folklorn, she writes about a “Korean American Cali-Gothic” family that tackles family trauma going back to the Korean War. The story is a Korean-American immigrant struggle story, yes, but more than that most of it atypically takes place in Sweden, where Hur lives with her Swedish physicist husband and their two children. Hur also dips liberally into Korean folktales, elements of which make regular appearances in the story.
In the mid-1950s, strange symptoms swept through Minamata in Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan. Fish died, cats became manic, and children started developing neurological issues like trouble speaking and walking. It all originated with the Chissa chemical factory and its waste disposal into the surrounding waters. Sean Michael Wilson and Akiko Shimojima’s comic, The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy, tells the story of this disease, the stigma surrounding it, and the survivors who are still alive today.