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Seeing the past, humanity afresh

by David Cozy

“Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City” (Columbia University Press) by Dung Kai-cheung, translated by Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall. Lovers of maps, devotees of Borges and Calvino, those who understand that novels need not be first-this-happened-then-that-happened catalogs of events in the lives of characters to whom readers can relate, those who are happy to encounter novelists as adventurous as their counterparts in the other arts will relish this Dung Kai-cheung work. If that’s you, then don’t miss Dung’s picture of pictures of an imaginary city.

“Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011″ (Blue Kingfisher) by Adrian Favell. Pictures of the imaginary “Cool Japan” and other art associated with “Superflat” will seem, to many, less adventurous than Dung’s “Archaeology.”

Fortunately, Favell’s “Before and After Superflat,” far from being fan-boy gush over Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and their epigones, is, instead, a sociologically informed account of the factors that made their art possible and of the transformed art world that Superflat left in its wake. The book is a substantial contribution to our understanding of what happened in Japanese art in the last couple of decades, and to what happened in Japan.

“Land” (Global Oriental) by Pak Kyung-ni, translated by Agnita Tennant. For a real understanding of the world, we will want to turn to one of the great novels of our time, Pak Kyung-ni’s “Land.”

Pak gives us a village populated by people who are not the actors of history — during the Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula and the attendant bleeding dry of the peasantry — but rather the acted upon. Pak’s achievement in bringing these peasants to life is breathtaking, not least because Pak’s backwater village becomes a lens through which we see history and humanity afresh.

David Cozy is a writer and critic, and an assistant professor at Showa Women’s University, Tokyo.