China’s Pearl River Delta recently surpassed Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area. Amid that vast conurbation of over 60 million people stands the city of Zhongshan. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghsan’s factories supply China’s middle class with consumer goods like lighting, furniture, and appliances. Looking east across the Indian Ocean, one finds Antalaha, a small harbor town on Madagascar’s eastern coast. Bordered by three national parks and without a paved road to the nation’s capital, Antalaha’s 67,000 inhabitants might seem remote. But thanks to a tree growing in those parks, Antalaha found itself fueling Zhongshan’s furniture industry. Annah Lake Zhu’s new book Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and The Rise of Global China, explores the consequences of this unexpected connection.

In the early 2000s, a group of anthropologists formed the Matsutake Worlds Research Group (MWRG). Their object of collaborative study was to be the matsutake mushroom and the ways in which humans interact with it. 15 or so years might seem a long time for a scholar (let alone a team of them) to study a single mushroom; nevertheless their project is ongoing, having produced two research monographs so far: Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom At The End Of The World and now Michael Hathaway’s What A Mushroom Lives For, as well as a series of essays. There promises to be at least one more book yet to come. 

Tonlé Sap is one of Southeast Asia’s, if not one of the world’s, natural wonders. Between the dry and wet seasons, the lake expands almost six times in size to cover an area the size of Kuwait. The flows are so strong that the Tonlé Sap river actually reverses course, with water from the lake flowing into the Mekong river.

Tree Crime, Melody Kemp (Proverse, April 2022) Melody KEMP
Tree Crime, Melody Kemp (Proverse, April 2022)

Arun, a young Mekong upland girl, falls in love and fascination with the forest and all it contains. The murder of a ranger and a frightening epidemic set her against the unprincipled and greedy exploitation of the natural world. The story encourages understanding of the increasing dangers to the environment and to human life that selfish lack of respect for nature creates. Set in a village on the edge of the forest, Tree Crime seeks to portray village life and interactions from an insider’s point of view.

According to Cambodian lore, the ocean was once ruled by the king of the Naga empire. The Naga were an amphibious people who made their home between land and water. A prince discovered this underworld when he traveled to an island and met its princess on the shore. Naturally, they fell in love. After the prince proved his mettle, the king blessed their marriage by swallowing the ocean, revealing the land below. “The land born of water was Cambodia,” writes journalist Abby Seiff in her new book, Troubling the Water: A Dying Lake and a Vanishing World in Cambodia.

It is widely accepted that Japan is a country deeply in touch with the natural world. From wall hangings of cranes and turtles, to carp banners flapping in the breeze, haiku about a frog in an old pond, and folk tales about foxes and badgers, Japanese arts and culture are suffused with images of nature. Moreover, in the present day, tourism is sold using images of cherry blossoms, autumn colors, and monkeys bathing in hot springs.