Not everyone takes to magical realism, with the “one hundred years” in Gabriel García Márquez’s groundbreaking work being taken as a description of the time needed to finish it. Since that, the “magical realism label” has been assigned to a bandwagon’s-worth of Latin American writers, from Isabel Allende to Laura Esquivel and, more recently, Junot Diaz. The influence has extended very far afield, it seems, for García Márquez’s book and characters are even alluded to in Shokoofeh Azar’s Farsi novel, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, now available in English.

If you are like most English-language readers, then indigenous writing from Taiwan in English translation will be largely, if not entirely, terra incognita, which is one reason among many why the publication of Sakinu Ahronglong’s Hunter School, which is about one non-Han indigenous tribe in particular, is important. As translator Darryl Sterk explains in his brief introduction, Sakinu speaks Paiwanese, an Austronesian language that, according to the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis, shares a common ancestor with Polynesian languages as well as Tagalog, Malay, Hawaiian, and Maori. And as Sakinu himself informs his readers in his own introduction, the reconstruction of Paiwan culture, under threat by external forces, not only provides the impetus behind the text, but also an underlying life’s purpose.   

Floral Mutter, Ya Shi, Nick Admussen (trans) (Zephyr Press, March 2020) Poetry
Floral Mutter, Ya Shi, Nick Admussen (trans) (Zephyr Press, March 2020)

A math teacher by day, Ya Shi lives 1,000 miles from the Beijing literary scene, but is celebrated among lovers of Chinese poetry from the conservative to the avant-garde. His jagged and intense short lyrics, wild nature sonnets, punchy couplets, and genre-bending, surreal poetic essays daringly combine iconoclasm and heart.

When Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 was published in South Korea several years ago, it took the country by storm, selling more than a million copies and becoming the most popular book in over a decade. Applauded by many women, those who do not support feminism have spoken out against it. Last year, the film version again caused controversy between those who want South Korean sexism to change and those who think the status quo is just fine. Now available in an English translation by Jamie Chang, English-language readers get a chance to understand this divide firsthand.

Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu: Modern Tales of a Chinese Romantic, Xu Xu, Frederik H Green (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, May 2020
Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu: Modern Tales of a Chinese Romantic, Xu Xu, Frederik H Green (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, May 2020)

Xu Xu (1908-1980) was one of the most widely read Chinese authors of the 1930s to 1960s. His popular urban gothic tales, his exotic spy fiction, and his quasi-existentialist love stories full of nostalgia and melancholy offer today’s readers an unusual glimpse into China’s turbulent twentieth century.

Twins Chirri & Chirra are pedalling on their bicycles when they find a cave:

 

“Let’s take a look, Chirri.”
“Yes let’s go, Chirra.”

 

With those opening words, the twins in their matching white dresses (only a blue pocket differentiates Chirra from Chirri’s red pocket) ride their bikes into a tunnel, headlights illuminating the path ahead. They arrive under the sea. “Oh,” the rosy-cheeked twins say as they pedal in the water, surrounded by fish, coral and algae.