As cities have increasingly become hitching posts for books, both fiction and non-fiction, Mumbai has naturally been subjected to thematic treatment. The city is celebrated for its resilience and its cosmopolitanism; tributes wax eloquent about its trains, its sea, its heritage buildings, or the diverse communities that inhabit it, to the point that its greatness has increasingly begun to sound clichéd. 

For some men, getting to know a woman isn’t quite what it seems. In this quirky collection of stories by Xu Xu, we can read about a man who dates a would-be ghost, another takes up with a supposedly mentally-challenged girl who has conversations with birds and eventually becomes a Buddhist nun, a third hooks up in a pro forma marriage (which later becomes real) with a mysterious Jewish woman whom a new acquaintance has asked him to help get to Europe, and a fourth falls in love with a strange girl who eventually kills herself after telling her tragic personal story to the narrator.

What brings a city to life in fiction? Written by expat writers in South Korea, the stories in A City of Han lead the reader past the opulent towers and neon-lit facades towards lonely apartment buildings and small alleyways hidden away from view. Each show an excellent command of the short story form and much like the city itself, these stories reveal that there is more than what first meets the eye: an argument for how predicaments and preoccupations of a city’s inhabitants do more than physical markers in defining the character of a place. 

In the newly-translated I Live in the Slums, her first collection of short stories in a decade, Chinese writer Can Xue invites us on a bizarre, at times whimsical, dark and unclassifiable journey exploring the terrain of and interaction with China’s urban geography. She keeps with her unique unconventional voice, as is best known in her earlier novels such as Love in the New Millennium, and Frontier.