Issue 29 - Autumn 2015

From the Editors - Autumn 2015

Think of an object tossed through the air. The narrative is simple – it will rise, reach an apex and then arc down towards a destination. As common as this event might be, the infinite range of possible outcomes nevertheless makes it mesmerising. Will the object land somewhere safe, as in a sure pair of hands, or somewhere instantly forgotten – a bin or a ditch? Is it a ball spinning towards a boundary or hoop for a winning score? Or is it a projectile packed with hate, such as a glass bottle trailing a flaming tail?

Each is a mystery unravelling. We often hold our breath as we watch. That’s also how life is, whether on a small or large scale. Some of our lives are launched into the air with clear purpose, others haphazardly. For some, the flight path doesn’t end far from where it started; it’s a matter of up, pause, and then back down to a familiar spot. For others, it’s a shot at the moon. But in all cases we are gripped by the uncertainty of how and where we will land, and whether we will be finally received with cheers, indifference or disdain.

The pieces in this issue of the ALR sample some of the shapes that can be drawn from our individual trajectories. Some are inspiring, others redemptive, still others heartbreakingly frustrating. But all articulate that shared sense of suspense.

2015 marks the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though it has been seven decades since such weapons were used against other human beings, nuclear arsenals remain in vast stockpiles around the world, many poised and ready for use. Their existence is a constant reminder of the pain and suffering of those horrific days in 1945. Our cover image, ‘Fallen Angel’, from Mariko Nagai’s photo essay on the destruction of Nagasaki that is still evident today, poignantly illuminates how little movement we have made from the place of that original sin. Nations on both sides of the conflict frequently toss into the air the issues of war crimes, but then let them bounce around aimlessly rather than guide them towards a state of rest.

Eungjun Lee’s story depicts the opposite sort of peril that can arise from haphazard action. In Private Life of a Nation, he imagines North and South Korea suddenly reunited, without adequate preparation or oversight. The result is a nightmarish and dystopian society structured around rival gangs and political factions. Lives ricochet like shrapnel, with days and nights endured only through violence, drugs, and the satisfying of base desires. Paul French’s essay projects us more literally – across the rooftops of old Shanghai. With his usual romantic sense of nostalgia, he assumes the guise of flâneur and sends us soaring through the decades of the mid-twentieth century when the city was a place out of time and circumstance, besieged first by decadence and then with the violence of foreign occupation and the Cultural Revolution. In so doing, he laments how little remains of the rooftop venues that once provided so much of Shanghai’s distinctive buzz.

Jemimah Steinfeld’s ‘Mao to Mohawks’ brings us back to twenty-first century China, where she depicts the irrepressibly rolling stone that is Beijing’s fringe youth culture. Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll have replaced the Party with the party. The Establishment is dismissed with a shrug, or worse, ignored.

Other pieces in this issue deal with life’s movements on a more personal scale. In introducing her new novel, Laksmi Pamuntjak hurls at us a single sentence – about food, no less! – that stretches to 2,700 words without running short of energy. In Zen Ren’s ‘Slanted Girl’, a young emigrant from China struggles to establish an identity in the unfamiliar US by attempting to unravel half-truths told by her mother, and by clinging to the comfort of a nest of Russian matryoshka dolls given to her by an unlikely guardian. Juhee Shin’s ‘You Say’ depicts a paranoid mother who fails to make the transition from one side of her life to the other, paralysed in performing work at her office as she obsessively watches CCTV feeds of her new-born baby and nanny, sensing danger everywhere other than in her own emotional blindness. Lastly, in Ruth Ahmed’s novel – written by two authors in alternating voices – Ali and Honour struggle to find cross-cultural love. They are drawn together by chemistry but their differences and misunderstandings obstruct a clear trajectory.

We all accept that uncertainty and upheaval are simply facts of life. Our minds therefore try to make sense of all that surrounds us. We then codify what we can with words, pictures and numbers, using paper and pen or computers. All the while, we propel our bodies into motion – forwards, sometimes backwards, up, down, side to side. We refuse to remain still. We have no choice; otherwise we die. With eyes open or shut, we go out to become what we must, letting spent air sweep past us. We are in flight, hoping for a safe landing.

Phillip Kim

Martin Alexander


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