A discovery in the history of art is a discovery like any other, so wrote in 1913 Friedrich Perzynski, a German art dealer, in Hunt for the Gods, an account of his exploits in China the year before. This was a time of turmoil. A dynasty had just fallen and the capital Beijing was humming with activity, as artefacts from all over the country were resurfacing in the open or in back rooms. Foreign archeologists, dealers and curators, who had been coming in growing numbers, marveled at the remnants of a civilization that only then was starting to be known.
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 is tempting to see Anuk Arudpragasam’s new novel A Passage North, set in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, as having political intent. It undoubtedly does: it is set around the dutiful visit of Krishan, a Tamil living in Colombo, to Sri Lanka’s war-scarred Northern Province for the funeral of Rani, his grandmother’s erstwhile care-taker, herself damaged by the war that took her two sons.
Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.
Spectators at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 1611 thrilled to the scenic realism of the Tempest. In the opening scene, a ship founders to the cries and alarms of her drowning sailors. But among those spectators some would nevertheless invest their private fortunes in the first ships to be sent by a newly chartered trading company to the farthest known seas. They were the initial investors in the East India Company and their ships were destined to reach Japan.
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.
We all probably at one point or other in our lives have wanted a do-over. Go back to take the left fork in the road, instead of the right. Take back words said in anger, or say words not voiced. In Eto Mori’s novel, Colorful, a nameless soul from a person who committed an egregious sin is allowed another chance at life to make up for that transgression. However, the soul must agree to accept the conditions of the do-over, or face eternal death, never being able to reincarnate.