The texts that are examined in this study move in and out of different languages or are multilingual in their origins. Texts and authors do not move randomly; rather, they follow routes shaped by the history of contact between different nations of the transpacific.
The Hōjōki, written in 1212 by the Buddhist monk Kamo no Chōmei, is one of the most beloved works of medieval literature in Japan. The opening lines of his chronicle are familiar to most people:
The flow of the river never ceases
And the water never stays the same.
Bubbles float on the surface of pools,
Bursting, reforming, never lingering.
They’re like the people in the world and their dwellings.
The lineage novel flourished in Korea from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth century. These vast works unfold genealogically, tracing the lives of several generations. New storylines, often written by different authors, follow the lives of the descendants of the original protagonists, offering encyclopedic accounts of domestic life cycles and relationships. Elite women transcribed these texts—which span tens and even hundreds of volumes—in exquisite vernacular calligraphy and transmitted them through generations in their families.
The whimsicality and enchantment of this collection of Ossetian folk tales could best be captured in the seductive melodies of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s fairy tale operas and the evocative stagings of Leon Bakst or Ivan Bilibin. The Tales of the Narts go back deep into the well of time, to the age when the Scythians pastured their horses from the Danube to Gansu, and when the Chechens, Adyghe and Karbadians were forging iron swords in the crags of the Caucasus.
Haruki Murakami is a big Raymond Carver fan. He translated Carver’s works into Japanese with great enthusiasm during the early 1980s, and in 1984 Murakami and his wife Yoko made the journey to meet Carver at his house on the Strait Juan de Fuca, just round the coast from Seattle. Though this West Coast rendezvous was their only meeting, Carver has influenced Murakami’s career on multiple occasions. When the time came to find an American agent, Murakami was drawn to Carver’s former rep, Binky Urban, precisely due to her connection with the American novelist.
One of the most fascinating and mysterious literary phenomena is the process by which one author, Shakespeare, Pushkin, Dante, or in this case, Hafez, comes to loom so high above all their talented and successful contemporaries. Most poetry lovers outside of Iran will not recognize the names of any of Hafez’s rivals and colleagues, and would be surprised to learn that they once enjoyed reputations equal to his.
The twilight of the Ming Dynasty in Southern China, with its elegant courtesans, poets and playwrights, pageants, drinking bouts and boat rides, bedazzled the generation which witnessed its fall in 1644. It inspired a literary legacy which has fascinated readers ever since. The Ming twilight in “Southland” is immortalized in Kong Shang-Ren’s (d. 1719) classic opera “The Peach Blossom Fan”. Kong interviewed many protagonists of the late Ming, including Yu Hai (d. 1693), whose memoirs are translated here by Harvard’s Wai-Yee Lee.