Intriguing East Asian Fiction

Did you hear the announcement earlier this year, that the National Book Foundation will be adding a new award for the first time in 36 years, honoring works in translation? With that news, it’s a good time to continue highlighting some interesting international fiction published in 2017-18, this time from East Asia – Japan, Korea and China.

Relative to other countries, there are a lot of Japanese works translated to English and published in the United States. Are you in the mood for literary fiction? Then try The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami which presents a slice-of-life view of a thrift shop owner, his two twenty-something employees, and his sister as they talk over loves lost, loves hoped for, and sex.

Perhaps you’d like to try manga (a Japanese graphic novel) with a lens on LGBTQ society and culture, in which case My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame is for you. Yaichi is a suburban Tokyo dad who works from home; at his door one day appears Mike, the Canadian widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin Ryoji. Invited to stay, Mike, Yaichi, and Yaichi’s daughter get to know one another and better understand Ryoji.

If you’re looking for a tried-and-true writer, dive into the latest from Haruki Murakami. In the short story collection Men Without Women, we glimpse the lives of seven men who find themselves alone for a variety of reasons. As always with Murakami, these stories blend the strange and the real.

Taking us to the dark underbelly of Japan’s cities, Fuminori Nakamura writes gritty fiction with a psychological or crime element. His latest, Cult X, takes the reader into the inner realm of fringe religious cults, as Toru Narazaki joins a sect worshiping a Buddhist guru in an effort to find his missing girlfriend.

Two 2017 novels translated into English feature coming-of-age stories of teenage boys. Young-ha Kim’s gritty I Hear Your Voice follows two teenage boys as they scramble to survive on the streets, ultimately rising to lead a biker gang. In Familiar Things by Sog-yong Hwang, Bugeye and his mother move to Flower Island, a vast landfill on the outskirts of Seoul, where 14-year-old Bugeye becomes brothers of a sort with a younger boy and a spirit boy, who show Bugeye a fantastic parallel world. Part coming-of-age, part manifestation of the detritus of capitalism, Hwang brings to the fore an invisible community.

Han Kang continues her incisive, sometimes brutal look into human nature with Human Acts. Taking as her starting point the brutal murder of a 15-year-old-boy during the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, Kang shifts perspectives among characters to get at what really happened to the boy, and to examine the universality of inhumane actions.

Suah Bae had two works translated into English recently: North Station, a collection of fragmented short stories that roam across subject matter; and Recitation, narrated by an aging actress as she travels through Europe and Asia, making new friends and sharing memories.

If you’re in the mood for a lyrical novel with powerful imagery, try Frontier by Canxue, which introduces us chapter-by-chapter to the residents of Pebble Town, a small town at the base of a mountain full of odd happenings.

For an examination of the human condition, check out the two novellas included in The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke. In the titular novella, a 72-year-old man and his dog fight to survive in an abandoned village. And in “Marrow,” a widow finds an unusual and extreme cure for the mental disabilities of her four children.

Ending with a foray into genre, get a taste of contemporary Chinese science fiction with the thirteen stories in Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited by Ken Liu. In the crime novel Death Notice by Haohui Zhou, an elite police force must track down a vigilante who is crowdsourcing a killing list of criminals who have escaped justice. It’s the first in a very popular trilogy in China.

This post is part of our Intriguing International Fiction series, an intermittant run of posts highlighting interesting fiction by international authors. Explore other posts about 2016 African fiction2017 Latin American fiction, and 2017 European fiction.

~ posted by Andrea G.

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