It was perhaps inevitable that Chinese memoirs in translation would move on from those whose authors date from the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution. Cai Chongda is a popular millennial writer and fashion executive who became the youngest editorial director in the GQ franchise. His memoir, Vessel, was a bestseller in China a half-dozen years ago and is now available in  English in a translation by Dylan Levi King. 

Rabbit in the Moon, Heather Diamond (Camphor Press, May 2021)
Rabbit in the Moon, Heather Diamond (Camphor Press, May 2021)

Rabbit in the Moon is an honest, finely crafted meditation on intercultural marriage, the importance of family, and finding the courage to follow your dreams. Returning from a holiday course in Hawaii to her teaching job in Texas, Heather Diamond wonders if her whirlwind affair with Fred, an ethnomusicologist from Hong Kong, was a moment of madness. She is, after all, forty-five years old, married, a mother and grandmother.

In the Shelter of the Pine: A Memoir of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu and Tokugawa Japan, Ōgimachi Machiko, GG Rowley (trans) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)
In the Shelter of the Pine: A Memoir of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu and Tokugawa Japan, Ōgimachi Machiko, GG Rowley (trans) (Columbia University Press, June 2021)

In the early eighteenth century, the noblewoman Ōgimachi Machiko composed a memoir of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, the powerful samurai for whom she had served as a concubine for twenty years. Machiko assisted Yoshiyasu in his ascent to the rank of chief adjutant to the Tokugawa shogun. She kept him in good graces with the imperial court, enabled him to study poetry with aristocratic teachers and have his compositions read by the retired emperor, and gave birth to two of his sons. Writing after Yoshiyasu’s retirement, she recalled it all—from the glittering formal visits of the shogun and his entourage to the passage of the seasons as seen from her apartments in the Yanagisawa mansion.

Well before ping-pong diplomacy in the early 1970s, there was acrobat diplomacy. As a result, many people around the world became familiar with Chinese acrobats, performers that did more than just walk a trapeze or juggle on stilts. Chinese acrobats brought circus performing to a new level, for instance by balancing multiple stacks of cups and saucers on the top of long sticks—often from two hands and a foot. In Jingjing Xue’s memoir, Shanghai Acrobat, the author not only tells of training with the Shanghai acrobats from a young age, but also shows how these troupes became the face of China, starting in developing countries and eventually reaching the west.

Our Home in Myanmar: Four years in Yangon, Jessica Mudditt (March 2021)
Our Home in Myanmar: Four years in Yangon, Jessica Mudditt (March 2021)

Myanmar—shrouded in mystery, misunderstood and isolated for half a century. After a whirlwind romance in Bangladesh, Australian journalist Jessica Mudditt and her Bangladeshi husband Sherpa arrive in Yangon in 2012—just as the military junta is beginning to relax its ironclad grip on power.

Dismissal, in fact, is the default response to khayal (the preeminent genre of North Indian classical music), well before we get to know what khayal is, and vaguely term its strangeness “classical music”. Those who later become acquainted with its extraordinary melodiousness forget that on the initial encounter it had sounded unmelodious.