Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.

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.

Top Graduate Zhang Xie: The Earliest Extant Chinese Southern Play, Regina S Llamas (trans, intro) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)
Top Graduate Zhang Xie: The Earliest Extant Chinese Southern Play, Regina S Llamas (trans, intro) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)

Top Graduate Zhang Xie is the first extant play in the Chinese southern dramatic tradition and a milestone in the history of Chinese literature. Dating from the early fifteenth century, but possibly composed earlier, it is the work of a writing club called the Nine Mountain Society.

If anyone thought Sei Shōnagon (ca 964-after 1027) was little more than a gossipy, snooty, disingenuously prim and sometimes acerbic observer of life at the effete Heian court of ancient Japan, here is a book to prove that notion completely wrong. Not only can her classic Pillow Book be read on several levels, but it has enjoyed a life of its own as different generations of readers interpret it and reimagine it.

Literary Information in China: A History, Jack W Chen (ed), Anatoly Detwyler (ed), Xiao Liu, Christopher MB Nugent ed), Bruce Rusk (ed) (Columbia University Press< May 2021)
Literary Information in China: A History, Jack W Chen (ed), Anatoly Detwyler (ed), Xiao Liu (ed), Christopher MB Nugent (ed), Bruce Rusk (ed) (Columbia University Press, May 2021)

“Information” has become a core concept across the disciplines, yet it is still often seen as a unique feature of the Western world that became central only in the digital age. In this book, leading experts turn to China’s textual tradition to show the significance of information for reconceptualizing the work of literary history, from its beginnings to the present moment.

Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages: Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River, Ian Burnet  (Alfred Street Press, April 2021)
Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages: Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River, Ian Burnet (Alfred Street Press, April 2021)

Joseph Conrad’s favored destination was Asia, the bustling transit port of Singapore, the remote islands and ports of the Dutch East Indies. It was from Singapore that he made four voyages as first mate on the steamship Vidar to a small trading post which was forty miles up a river on the east coast of Borneo. A river and a settlement which he described as “One of the last, forgotten, unknown places on earth”. His Borneo books—Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, The Rescue and the latter part of Lord Jim—were all based on the places he visited, the stories he heard, and the people he met during these voyages.