Once upon a time, many of the largest cities in what was at the time called the “Near East” enjoyed the benefits of the presence of thriving Jewish communities. Constantinople, Aleppo and Baghdad were just a few cities with tens of thousands of Jews that have since dwindled down to almost a handful. In award-winning Elizabeth Graver’s new novel, Kantika, she writes about her grandmother’s Sephardic family from Constantinople. At the end of the book, she states that she decided to use family photos and real names to keep parts of her story true all while using creative license with ancillary details. 

Peter Constantine is one of the most prominent—and diverse—contemporary translators. He has published English translations from Russian, German, French, Italian, Modern and Ancient Greek, Albanian, Dutch and Slovene, winning numerous awards for his translations of Machiavelli, Babel, and Thomas Mann. It’s only now that he’s come out with a novel, The Purchased Bride, based on the story of how his paternal grandparents met. It comes as no surprise then that language is an important part of this story.

During the Great War, 140,000 Chinese laborers were recruited to work in England and France in order to free up men in those countries to fight. Janie Chang uses this corner of history as the backdrop of her new historical novel, The Porcelain Moon. While the two characters at the center of the story—a young Chinese woman named Pauline Deng and a French woman named Camille Roussel—are fictional, Chang indicates in her author’s note that many of the landmarks and other details of the Chinese labor camps she writes about are based on real places.

When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country.