Zhang Yueran, one of China’s most accomplished young female writers, debuts in the English-speaking world with Cocoon, an upmarket literary thriller, which delves into the complexity of a crime set during the Cultural Revolution, in one of contemporary China’s most chaotic years
Cheng Gong and Li Jiaqi go way back. Both hailing from dysfunctional families, they grew up together in a Chinese provincial capital in the 1980s. Now, many years later, the childhood friends reunite and discover how much they still have in common. Both have always been determined to follow the tracks of their grandparents’ generation to the heart of a mystery that perhaps should have stayed buried. What exactly happened during that rainy night in 1967, in the abandoned water tower? Zhang Yueran’s layered and hypnotic prose reveals much about the unshakable power of friendship and the existence of hope. Hers is a unique fresh voice representing a new generation of important young writers from China, shedding a different light on the country’s recent past.
Zhang Yueran is one of China’s most influential young writers. A literary celebrity since her early twenties, she is a prominent figure in the “post-80” (i.e. born after 1980) generation, known for both her novels and her editorship of the journal Newriting. Her novel Cocoon is her first work published in English.
My thoughts: “I came back last month and didn’t tell a soul.” So begins Zhang Yueran’s novel (translated by Jeremy Tiang) and I was enthralled from the beginning. I was fascinated by how one action in the past sent its influence down to future generations like shock waves, pushing characters apart but also keeping them captured in it’s gravity of grief.
“The house was terrifyingly quiet, nothing but the sound of chewing, as if they were all gnawing on someone else’s bones.”
I loved reading this mysterious, sad, rich and incredibly sophisticated novel. It might be the best Chinese novel I’ve ever read. A book haunted by memories and the longing to know people who are gone. A Masterpiece.
A fiendish, classic locked room murder mystery, from one of Japan’s greatest crime writers
Loosely inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the brilliant Gokumon Island is perhaps the most highly regarded of all the great Seishi Yokomizo’s classic Japanese mysteries.
Detective Kosuke Kindaichi arrives on the remote Gokumon Island bearing tragic news–the son of one of the island’s most important families has died, on a troop transport ship bringing him back home after the Second World War. But Kindaichi has not come merely as a messenger–with his last words, the dying man warned that his three step-sisters’ lives would now be in danger. The scruffy detective is determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious prophesy, and to protect the three women if he can.
As Kindaichi attempts to unravel the island’s secrets, a series of gruesome murders begins. He investigates, but soon finds himself in mortal danger from both the unknown killer and the clannish locals, who resent this outsider meddling in their affairs.
My thoughts: Another entertaining entry in the Kosuke Kindaichi series. Maybe not quite on par with The Honjin Murders and The Village of Eight Graves, but still a good setting and mysterious murder series. As always the cover work is brilliant.
A mesmerising novel set in Japan, by the author of Rainbirds and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, about a young man trying to escape his past.
When Shouji Arai crosses one of his company’s most powerful clients, he must leave Akakawa immediately or risk his life. But his girlfriend Youko is nowhere to be found.
Haunted by dreams of drowning and the words of a fortune teller who warned him away from three women with water in their names, he travels to Tokyo, where he tries in vain to track Youko down. But Shouji soon realises that not everything Youko told him about herself was true. Who is the real woman he once lived with and loved, and where could she be hiding?
Watersong is a spellbinding novel of loves lost and recovered, of secrets never spoken, and of how our pasts shape our futures.
My thoughts. Never have your fortune told!
I really enjoyed Clarissa Goenawan’s new novel Watersong, it took me out of a reading slump and I liked spending time with her characters, loved the tea ceremony set up, the mystery, but also the normal moments of just characters eating food and spending time together. Really loved that she brought a bit of Singapore into this book, hopefully we’ll get even more of that and maybe a female lead in her next novel which I’m already looking forward to reading.
A story is never an answer. A story is always a question.’
Here we are in extraordinary times.
Is this history?
What happens when we cease to trust governments, the media, each other?
What have we lost?
What stays with us?
What does it take to unlock our future?
Following her astonishing quartet of Seasonal novels, Ali Smith again lights a way for us through the nightmarish now, in a vital celebration of companionship in all its forms.
‘Every hello, like every voice, holds its story ready, waiting.’
My thoughts: It’s just a joy to read Ali Smith creative usage of language and wordplay and then suddenly there’s the a tale of a young blacksmith her bird and it’s just pure, magnificent storytelling. Ali Smith is a wondrous writer, I only wish this book would have been longer so I could read more of her thoughts on art, the state of the world and the letter V.
A powerful novel about the LGBTQ rights movement and gay love in Japan and Taiwan, from the most important queer voice of East Asia’s millennial generation.
Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden—including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan. There is also her unusual fascination with death: she knows from personal experience how devastating death can be, but for her it is also creative fuel. Solo Dance depicts the painful coming of age of a gay person in Taiwan and corporate Japan. This striking debut is an intimate and powerful account of a search for hope after trauma.
“No matter how far she traced the threads of memory, she couldn’t place the exact moment when that vast darkness had seeped over her, nor identify its source.”
Li Kotomi’s Solo Dance (translated by Arthur Reiji Morris) is a short, sad novel about a lesbian woman living in Japan, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide and her sexuality because of her traumatic past in Taiwan. It’s a sad, tough novel at times, but definitely worth it for the cultural insights and queer literary references, specially to Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin. I’d be interested in reading more from this Author.
The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.
Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.
When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.
“… I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story. It’s a kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we’re uniquely important, that we’re living at the end of history, that now, now is finally the worst that it’s ever been, that finally we have reached the end of the world.”
Sea of Tranquility is part pandemic balm for the soul, part companion piece to The Glass Hotel, part Station Eleven meta book tour and of course, part time travel mystery. I love Emily St. John Mandel’s books and I feel very honored that I’ve been granted an ARC by the Knopf Doubleday Poublishing Group. The Sea of Tranquility was a joy to read, specially as a fan, just reading the name Vincent again her role in The Glass Hotel made me realize I was in for a fascinating journey not only through time and space but through Mandel’s own work as well.
A journalist asks the writer in the story what’s it like to be an author of a pandemic novel during a pandemic. I now wonder how Emily St. John Mandel feels about being an author of a pandemic novel during a pandemic while publishing a new novel set partially during the actual pandemic we’re still living through now.
This book is a pleasure to read, playful, fun and of this very moment.
1836, Prussia. Hanne is nearly fifteen and the domestic world of womanhood is quickly closing in on her. A child of nature, she yearns instead for the rush of the river, the wind dancing around her. Hanne finds little comfort in the local girls and friendship doesn’t come easily, until she meets Thea and she finds in her a kindred spirit and finally, acceptance.
Hanne’s family are Old Lutherans, and in her small village hushed worship is done secretly – this is a community under threat. But when they are granted safe passage to Australia, the community rejoices: at last a place they can pray without fear, a permanent home. Freedom.
It’s a promise of freedom that will have devastating consequences for Hanne and Thea, but, on that long and brutal journey, their bond proves too strong for even nature to break . . .
From the bestselling author of Burial Rites and The Good People, Devotion is a stunning story of girlhood and friendship, faith and suspicion, and the impossible lengths we go to for the ones we love.
My thoughts. A beautifully written story about queer love, longing, death and devotion… and ghosts. Hannah Kent’s writing about nature and little moments is delicate and hopeful, no matter how sad the circumstances may be. I really enjoyed spending time with this novel. The fact that Hannah Kent considers this book as one big giant love letter to her wife Heidi is just wonderful and adds another layer to this wonderful novel.
A literary thriller about the effects of nuclear power on the mind, body, and recorded history of three generations of Japanese women.
Nine years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, Japan is preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. An unnamed narrator wakes up in a cold, sterile room, unable to recall her past. Across the country, the elderly begin to hear voices emanating from black stones, compelling them to behave in strange and unpredictable ways. The voices are a symptom of a disease called “Trinity.”
As details about the disease come to light, we encounter a thread of linked histories—Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, the discovery of radiation, the nuclear arms race, the subsequent birth of nuclear energy, and the disaster in Fukushima. The threads linking these events begins to unravel in the lead-up to a terrorist attack at the Japan National Olympic Stadium.
A work of speculative fiction reckoning with the ramifications of the past and continued effects of nuclear power, Trinity, Trinity, Trinity follows the lives of three generations of women connected by a history of violence.
My thoughts: Trinity, Trinity, Trinity by writer and artist Erika Kobayashi might be the most interesting Japanese novel I’ve read in the last couple of years. A short book full of fascinating moments, metaphors, ideas, the history of radiation, Fukushima and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Would recommend to everyone who’s interested in contemporary Japanese literature and exciting literary voices.
The highly anticipated new thriller from internationally renowned author Sara Gran, author of Come Closer and the Claire DeWitt series.
A mysterious book that promises unlimited power and unrivaled sexual pleasure. A down-on-her-luck book dealer hoping for the sale of a lifetime. And a twist so shocking, no one will come out unscathed.
After a tragedy too painful to bear, former novelist Lily Albrecht has resigned herself to a dull, sexless life as a rare book dealer. Until she gets a lead on a book that just might turn everything around. The Book of the Most Precious Substance is a 17th century manual on sex magic, rumored to be the most powerful occult book ever written–if it really exists at all. And some of the wealthiest people in the world are willing to pay Lily a fortune to find it—if she can. Her search for the book takes her from New York to New Orleans to Munich to Paris, searching the dark corners of power where the world’s wealthiest people use black magic to fulfill their desires. Will Lily fulfill her own desires, and join them? Or will she lose it all searching for a ghost? The Book of the Most Precious Substance is an addictive erotic thriller about the lengths we’ll go to get what we need—and what we want.
My thoughts: Books about rare and or magical books are the most entertaining books, I’m thinking of two of my favourites, Jen Banbury’s Like a Hole in the Head or Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y. Now we have Sara Gran’s The Book of the Most Precious Substance and it’s a fantastic novel about rare books, booksellers, sex magic, loss, grief and about how the universe is never, ever fair.
I breezed through this book, Sara Gran is a fantastic writer, please pick up her Claire DeWitt series if you haven’t already. Dreamland books is off to a great start, here’s hoping they’ll publish many more brilliant, fun, smart and sexy books like The Book of the Most Precious Substance.
From Shion Miura, award-winning author of The Easy Life in Kamusari, comes a spirit-lifting novel about tradition, first love, and ancient lore in a Japanese mountain village.
It’s been a year since Yuki Hirano left home—or more precisely, was booted from it—to study forestry in the remote mountain village of Kamusari. Being a woodsman is not the future he imagined, but his name means “courage,” and Yuki hopes to live up to it. He’s adapting to his job and learning constantly. In between, he records local legends—tales pulsing with life, passion, and wondrous gods. Kamusari has other charms as well. One of them is Nao.
Yuki’s crush on the only other young single person in the village isn’t a secret. Yet how impressed can she be with someone at least five years younger who makes less money and doesn’t even own a car? More daunting, she’s in love with another man. Finally finding his place among the villagers, a feeling deepened by his crush, Yuki seems headed for a dream life of adventure and camaraderie—and Nao could be the missing piece of that dream.
Kamusari Tales Told at Night follows Shion Miura’s The Easy Life in Kamusari which was adapted into my favourite Japanese feelgood movie Wood Job!
This book is equally delightful and joyful, humorous and shows respect for nature and traditions of village life. It was a great pleasure to spend more time with Yuki and his fellow forestry workers.