In 1910, Manchuria suffered a terrible epidemic that killed tens of thousands of people in a matter of months. Although the 1918 flu pandemic has taken most of the spotlight when it comes to super spreaders a hundred years ago, HY Yeang writes about the Manchurian pneumonic plague in his debut novel, Blue Sky Mansion.
Alexander McCall Smith, of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame, has moved, literarily if not literally, from Africa and Scotland to Sri Lanka. He has placed the story of his latest novel The Pavilion in the Clouds, on the grounds of a tea plantation in colonial Ceylon.
It can be easy to forget amongst the glistening skyscrapers, bustling streets and neon lights, but the Pearl River Delta used to be a haven for banditry and piracy. As the authority of Imperial China waned, pirate fleets based out of Guangdong Province roamed the waves, raiding traders and taking captives.
Lafcadio Hearn, born of an Irish surgeon and a Greek mother, became known later in life as Koizumi Yakumo after marrying in Japan and taking Japanese citizenship to preserve his wife’s inheritance. Hearn or Koizumi was a journalist and an author, and one of the early English writers to introduce Japan to the outside world during the Meiji era. Two recent novels—The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong and Black Dragonfly by Jean Pasley—have centered around his life, but in two very different ways.
The year is 1985. Durga is visiting her grandmother Mary in rural Malaysia. It’s not a particularly happy occasion: Mary is tough and sharp-tongued, and “home” sparks bad memories for Durga.
Edward Rutherfurd is known for massive historical novels usually set in cities like New York, Paris and London. They dig deeply into a specific place and he focuses on a certain period. His latest is titled China and spans the last seventy years of the Qing Dynasty: which covers the Opium Wars, Taiping and Boxer Rebellions, and Pu Yi’s ascension to the throne as the last emperor.
Classically Russian in length and possibly ambition, Vladimir Gonik’s Orchestra, recently translated into English by Christopher Culver, might prove the sleeper of the year. Three interlocking narratives and families play out over almost 40 years with the doomed Korean Air Lines flight 007 as the linchpin.