The European Enlightenment relished Sheikh Sa‘di of Shiraz, 13th-century Persian poet and moral philosopher for his work, The Rose Garden, a witty mixture of prose and poetry, morality and ribaldry, lyric and proverbial wisdom.
In Touring the Land of the Dead, author Maki Kashimada writes about one woman’s trauma with razor-perfect concision and an austere beauty.
Shaw Kuzki’s middle-grade novel Soul Lanterns begins in August 1970. A generation earlier, an atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. Nozomi and her friends have grown up attending yearly memorials and learning about “the flash” in their peace studies class. When a much-loved art teacher takes an unexpected leave of absence, Nozomi begins to wonder about how the war really affected the adults in her life.
Despite being separated by the sea and eight centuries, both of these poets share feelings of exile and displacement and exile as they wander more or less aimlessly around their respective countries, attempting to sort themselves out through writing poetry. They also share the good fortune of having attracted excellent biographers, who let them speak freely and directly through their poetry rather than simply writing about their deeds and personalities. Readers as a result vicariously travel with the poets, feeling their experiences directly and responding to them viscerally and emotionally as well as intellectually.
Journey to the West, and especially the character of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is beloved by readers across China, East Asia, and beyond. The story and its characters have been written and rewritten in books, comics, graphic novels, movies, television shows, and video games. In many ways, Journey to the West and Son Wukong have become archetypes: stories and characters that people refer to and recognize, without ever looking at the original source material.
“100 poems by 100 poets”: compiled in the 13th century by the famed poet, Fujiwara no Teika, (1162–1241) the Hyakunin-isshu (百人一首) is the most widely-read poetry anthology in Japan. Long celebrated in the arts, including in a famous woodblock series by Hokusai, the anthology is part of the curriculum of all Japanese school children, much as students in England might study Shakespeare.
Ahmet Altan is something of a master of the evocative opening line, brief this time: “Some nights he woke to the footsteps of the ants crawling across the Persian carpet.” Although Love in the Days of Rebellion, the second installment in Ahmet Altan’s “Ottoman Quartet”, is a sequel to Like a Sword Wound, it can also be read alone.