Friday 2 October 2020

Tsundoku #14 - October 2020

 In England i've lit the first fires of the autumn and settled down to read. It might not be so chilly all over the world but whether by the fire or the pool, here's some Asia-related books that caught my eye and built my tsundoku for this October. As ever fiction first....


Zhang Ling's A Single Swallow (translated by Shelly Bryant) - On the day of the historic 1945 Jewel Voice Broadcast - in which Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces, bringing an end to World War II - three men, flush with jubilation, made a pact. After their deaths, each year on the anniversary of the broadcast, their souls would return to the Chinese village of their younger days. It’s where they had fought—and survived—a war that shook the world and changed their own lives in unimaginable ways. Now, seventy years later, the pledge is being fulfilled by American missionary Pastor Billy, brash gunner’s mate Ian Ferguson, and local soldier Liu Zhaohu.


Meng Jin's Little Gods takes place on the night of June Fourth as a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past, fighting what she calls the mind's arrow of time. A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class. 


Enemy of the Raj by Eric March is a fun historical fiction and the second in the Dabble and Harris series. It's India, 1937. Intrepid reporter Sir Percival Harris is hunting tigers with his friend, Professor Ernest Drabble. Harris soon bags a man-eater - but later finds himself caught up in a hunt of a different kind...


And as it's back to uni (virtually mostly it seems) month a lot of non-fiction too...

Wayne Soon's Global Medicine in China starts in 1938, one year into the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese military found itself in dire medical straits. Soldiers were suffering from deadly illnesses, and were unable to receive blood transfusions for their wounds. The urgent need for medical assistance prompted an unprecedented flowering of scientific knowledge in China and Taiwan throughout the twentieth century. Wayne Soon draws on archives from three continents to argue that Overseas Chinese were key to this development, utilizing their global connections and diasporic links to procure much-needed money, supplies, and medical expertise.


Jack Meng-tat Chia's Monks in Motion reminds us that Chinese Buddhists have never remained stationary. They have always been on the move. In Monks in Motion, Jack Meng-Tat Chia explores why Buddhist monks migrated from China to Southeast Asia, and how they participated in transregional Buddhist networks across the South China Sea. This book tells the story of three prominent monks--Chuk Mor (1913-2002), Yen Pei (1917-1996), and Ashin Jinarakkhita (1923-2002)--and examines the connected history of Buddhist communities in China and maritime Southeast Asia in the twentieth century.


As a foreign correspondent for BusinessWeek, Dori Jones Yang was among the first American journalists to cover China under Deng Xiaoping, who dared to defy Maoist doctrine as he rushed to catch up with richer nations. Fluent in Mandarin, she got to know ordinary Chinese people—who were embracing opportunities that had once been unimaginable in China. When the Red Gate Opened is her autobiography of that time. 


Michael Gibb's A Korean Odyssey is a great idea. Gibb embarks on an eccentric odyssey around the wind-swept islands off the coast of South Korea in search of life beyond K-pop, high-tech gadgetry and nuclear missile tests. With well over three thousand islands to choose from, there was no shortage of destinations, all connected by the indomitable ferries that ply these choppy waters. From the fog-bound isles within hailing distance of North Korea to the charms of the southern archipelagos and the rocky outcrops deep in the lonely East Sea, Gibb discovers a region of Asia unjustly ignored by travelers. 


Eric Schluessel 's Land of Strangers takes us back to the close of the nineteenth century, near the end of the Qing empire, Confucian revivalists from central China gained control of the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, or East Turkestan. There they undertook a program to transform Turkic-speaking Muslims into Chinese-speaking Confucians, seeking to bind this population and their homeland to the Chinese cultural and political realm. Instead of assimilation, divisions between communities only deepened, resulting in a profound estrangement that continues to this day.


And lastly a book about books...John Dougill's Kyoto: A Literary Guide which ranges from  ancient Heian beginnings to contemporary depictions. The city's aesthetic leaning is evident throughout in a mix of well-known and less familiar works by a wide-ranging cast that includes emperors and court ladies, Zen masters and warrior scholars, wandering monks and poet "immortals." We see the city through their eyes in poetic pieces that reflect timeless themes of beauty, nature, love and war. An assortment of tanka, haiku, modern verse and prose passages make up the literary feast, and as we enter recent times there are English-language poems too.