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.

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.