It’s been just about a year since international travel all but came to a standstill, so it could either feel timely or insidious to be presented with a new book of short stories set across East Asia, the Pacific, and Europe, several of which feature travelers. Simon Rowe’s latest collection, Pearl City: Stories from Japan and Elsewhere, fortunately falls into the former category. Rowe is known as a noir writer and these stories all fall under that genre; and here Rowe gets to the heart of everyday people in each of the places he covers.
The volcanic Jeju Island is now a popular honeymoon destination in South Korea, but has a darker history that has only relatively recently begun to be openly discussed: a little over seventy years ago it was the scene of a massacre. Residents of Jeju had been some of the most ardent resisters of Japanese rule and supporters of an independent Korea. In April 1948, violence broke out when the regime in Seoul started an anti-communist purge in Jeju. In The Mermaid from Jeju, Sumi Hahn has written a novel centered around the massacre and a community of haenyeo, or female deep-sea pearl divers who begin their work as young as age eleven.
Zuleikha had an aptitude for the piano during her childhood in Lahore, but her black-marketer father could only afford an electronic Casio keyboard. Years later, her dream of owning her own proper piano comes about upon leaving Pakistan for an arranged marriage to Iskander, a US citizen and resident of Irving, Texas. So begins Suman Mallick’s new novel, The Black-Marketer’s Daughter.
White women were a rare commodity in Europe’s Asian colonies, a considerable problem if one wanted to build a long-term colonial society while avoiding miscegenation. It was a matter that particularly exercised the first leaders of the Dutch East Indies.
Chloe Gong sounds more like a character in a young adult novel than the author of one. A Shanghai-born, New Zealand-raised UPenn senior double-majoring English and international relations lands a book deal with one of the most reputable publishers of children’s books and publishes it to considerable (and deserved) critical acclaim.
Jack Cheng’s family has nightmares. His father screams in his sleep and his five year-old sister, Annabel, sleepwalks after her parents leave her side at night. His mother works late hours at her semiconductor plant and never planned to have a family in the US. For an eleven year-old, Jack feels it’s up to him to protect his family.
Some years back, graphic novelist Keum Suk Gendry-Kim interviewed an elderly Korean woman named Lee Ok-sun. Gendry-Kim hoped to learn about social class and gender disparity during World War II and write a book about this subject. But after several interviews, Gendry-Kim realized Lee’s personal story warranted a book of its own. The result is Grass, a graphic novel now out in an English translation by Janet Hong.