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.
The Peruvian-Mexican Mario Bellatin is one of the most acclaimed of the current generation of writers in Spanish. Mrs Murakami’s Garden, recently released in English, is at first glance a novella set in Japan about a widow who sets about dismantling her garden in reaction to her husband’s death.
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.
Works of literature that feature the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian taiga are extremely rare; the only ones that immediately come to mind are The Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian, about Evenki along the Heilongjiang-Russian border, and the (true) story of Dersu Uzala, a Nanai introduced to the world in Vladimir K Arsenyev’s now century-old Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World boldly starts with a chapter entitled “The End” which opens with the death of the main protagonist. “Her name was Leila,” the novel begins, past tense, and already Leila, or Tequila Leila as she is known to her friends and clients, breathes no more, cliffhangers be damned.
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.