I saw a new release recently, and read a sample of the first few pages. I was strangely drawn to it. Though perhaps it’s not so strange, since it’s by an (apparently, judging by the awards and reviews I’ve read) super well-respected author, Chang-rae Lee. His sentences flow on and on like a river looking for the ocean, not in a particular hurry, because the destination is ultimately known and once there everything will simply begin again anyway. That sentence was my (paltry) attempt at recreating the mood and style he infuses into every word.
It’s a lot of imagery, and metaphorical language that somehow is also clear cut and precise. Even when it seems like the story is meandering, you don’t abandon it, and are rewarded with the moment when it all pieces together gently, knowingly, and you’re brought in on the secret.
Basically it’s a lot of what I don’t usually read. Literary fiction can often tire or bore me even when I love aspects of it in other ways. It’s a rare sampling for me. But Chang-rae Lee went to school at PEA, and I almost went to school there, and I find that interesting enough to pursue finding his book My Year Abroad from the library and giving it a go. I’m about 15% of the way in right now, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the plot of the story is or where it’s heading, and I’m planning on just moseying on through and letting his words carry me wherever we end up going.
Recommended: sure For a light mystery but mostly a self-reflective journey of discovery, for mouthwatering descriptions of tasty Korean dishes, for some very poignant moments of insight into one woman’s extremely difficult life
Summary: Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother. Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
Thoughts: The story itself is a slower pace as you learn about Mina and Margot in their past and present. I loved the subtle intertwining of the two. The reflections of Mina’s past experiences in Margot’s present as she investigates her mother’s death linked them together in a beautiful way. The highlight here is the writing itself, as it’s very plain and unassuming yet conveys so much emotion.
In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look ahead to an upcoming release that I’me xcited about! Today’s (or, well, yesterday’s since I’m a day late this time) is When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo — and the author might be familiar if you follow this blog! So, why am I excited about this one? Expected Release: December 8, 2020
Now to be honest, I’ve only just read the blurb for the first time, because when I saw Nghi Vo I knew I would be reading it. But the blurb sounds like it will be a perfect delivery of another entrancing world. Chih has to placate yet understand a ferocious band of tigers, and I think the character’s interaction with an animal as the basis for their talents will work perfectly with the mystical writing style.
These are delightful bite-size stories that feel like so much more. I’m working on other reading goals right now, but for any of y’all who are hoping to hit a quota before the end of the year: this is a perfect addition. 128 pages makes it short and sweet, and Nghi Vo packs it with emotion of a 600+ page tome.
The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.
Recommended: sure For a look at Japanese internment, for cross-racial relations, for a story about people
Summary: In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world. Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.
Thoughts: While this was not fervently compelling, it had a quiet dignity that held my attention throughout. It’s a story of people. Impressively, despite having a fairly large cast whom we learn about, across multiple generations, each person feels robust and well-known. Even the seemingly smaller characters are given motivation and pain and importance in their way. I loved seeing that, as I think it’s indicative of a world I want to live in: one where every person is known to be a complex person, and so patience is easier to give.