Kiyoko Murata’s A Woman of Pleasure is a story of Japan’s pleasure quarters in 1903 and 1904. Fifteen-year-old Aoi Ichi grew up on a rocky volcanic island, “the sort of place where stumbling upon a folkloric demon would come as no surprise”. She always expected to grow up like her mother, a strong swimmer and diver who supports her family with the fish and shellfish she catches. But now, to support a loan to her impoverished family, she has been sold to an exclusive brothel in Kumamoto, a regional capital along an inland sea on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.

Mariko Tatsumoto has made her name as a children’s author; her new book, Blossoms on a Poisoned Sea: A Novel of Love & Betrayal in Minamata, Japan, set during the 1956 industrial disaster, is suited for a more mature audience of adults and young adults. It’s a thrilling coming of age romance of a poor daughter of a fisherman family and a wealthy son of a corporate executive, one that probably resonates more than ever with contemporary readers after the recent pandemic. 

In her letter to readers at the beginning of her debut novel, The Storm We Made, Vanessa Chan writes that Malaysian “grandparents love us by not speaking” and goes on to explain that this only pertains to the four years of Japanese occupation during World War II. In every other subject, she writes, Malaysian grandparents do speak and at great lengths. But when it comes to the war, they cannot bring themselves to talk about the horrors from that time.