Joy, Despair, Illusion, Dreams: Twenty Plays from the Nō Tradition, Royall Tyler (trans) (Columbia University Press, April 2024)
Joy, Despair, Illusion, Dreams: Twenty Plays from the Nō Tradition, Royall Tyler (trans) (Columbia University Press, April 2024)

Nō drama, which integrates speech, song, dance, music, mask, and costume into a distinctive art form, is among Japan’s most revered cultural traditions. It gained popularity in the fourteenth century, when the actor and playwright Zeami (1363–1443) drew the favor of the shogun with his theatrical innovations. Nō’s intricacies and highly stylized conventions continue to attract Japanese and Western appreciation, and a repertoire of some 250 plays is performed today.

Angie Chau’s discussion of five Chinese literary and visual artists who sojourned in Paris between (for the most part) the First and Second World War explores, in an academic way, the notion of “transposition”, a usage she has coined to describe how artists navigated the two environments—Chinese and French—they encountered and operated in. Non-academic readers might be drawn to the straightforward stories promised in the subtitle “Early Twentieth Century Sino-French Encounters”.

Writing Violence: The Politics of Form in Early Modern Japanese Literature, David C Atherton (Columbia University Press, October 2023)
Writing Violence: The Politics of Form in Early Modern Japanese Literature, David C Atherton (Columbia University Press, October 2023)

Edo-period Japan was a golden age for commercial literature. A host of new narrative genres cast their gaze across the social landscape, probed the realms of history and the fantastic, and breathed new life into literary tradition. But how to understand the politics of this body of literature remains contested, in part because the defining characteristics of much early modern fiction—formulaicness, reuse of narratives, stock characters, linguistic and intertextual play, and heavy allusion to literary canon—can seem to hold social and political realities at arm’s length.

Afterlives of Letters: The Transnational Origins of Modern Literature in China, Japan, and Korea, Satoru Hashimoto (Columbia University Press, October 2023)
Afterlives of Letters: The Transnational Origins of Modern Literature in China, Japan, and Korea, Satoru Hashimoto (Columbia University Press, October 2023)

When East Asia opened itself to the world in the nineteenth century, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean intellectuals had shared notions of literature because of the centuries-long cultural exchanges in the region. As modernization profoundly destabilized cultural norms, they ventured to create new literature for the new era.

Urdu Crime Fiction, 1890–1950: An Informal History, CM Naim (Orient BlackSwan, June 2023)
Urdu Crime Fiction, 1890–1950: An Informal History, CM Naim (Orient BlackSwan, June 2023)

“Humankind, I like to believe, can be divided into two groups: one group swears by science fiction, the other cherishes only mysteries. I belong to the latter.” Thus begins C. M. Naim’s homage to the writers who once provided generations of Urdu-speaking mystery-lovers hours of sleepless delight.

Literature tends to be defined by language and place. For instance, Japanese literature is written in Japanese, or translated into another language, and written by Japanese authors. Chinese literature is however a little more complex because writers may also hail from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. In most of these places, citizens—a significant minority if not the vast majority—speak, read, and write Chinese. In the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, ethnically-Chinese writers may also read and write in English. But Malaysia is a case apart. Despite the Chinese being a minority that speak a variety of languages and dialects, there has been a robust Chinese literary tradition from Malaysia for almost a century. Cheow Thia Chan’s new book, Malaysian Crossings: Place and Language in the Worlding of Modern Chinese Literature, discusses the history and complexities of Mahua, or Malaysian Chinese literature, to show how it has developed and endures stronger than ever today.