PositivePloughsharesThe collection hangs somewhere between the story of a writer coming into being and a description of the feeling of aliveness to which a writer may be especially attuned. We see Aciman as a child in Egypt longing for France. We see him then in France longing for the version of France he longed for in Egypt. We see him as a young adult in New York, heartsick, stumbling into showings of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. We see him, years later, traveling to Freud’s Rome and Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg. In these scenes, the act of writing itself—the writer as writer—disappears in a vanishing trick of the irrealis mood ... The irrealis mood develops—blooms, to use Aciman’s word—from this kind of glimpsed significance. Aciman cannot inform his younger self of the full meaning of a pattern of meetings between lovers and ex-lovers that wouldn’t be completed for decades and wouldn’t be visible, except through Rohmer’s films. He can only feel a retrospective nostalgia that runs parallel to his younger self’s anticipatory longing. Herein lies one of most compelling arguments the book makes: that as makers and viewers of art—as humans—we seek out the mood and sensation of the irrealis because we find deep pleasure in it despite the pain it also brings ... A broader investigation of the irrealis might have answered some lingering questions, like why we seek out disturbing sensations, anticipating our own nostalgia and displacing ourselves into the past and future, or why we want to live in the irrealis mood. Though Aciman doesn’t directly address these concerns, he makes room for them by persistently placing himself in view of himself.
RavePloughsharesAlmost each chapter includes a dizzying moment of mutual exclusivity like this one, of suddenly realized difference from others, the book like a series of high existential peaks from which the narrator might plummet ... The constant shifting of what constitutes \'difference\' makes Guo’s portrait of an immigrant experience a restless and mesmerizing one ... The interplay of each of them through the narrator’s vast intelligence and sensitivity—and Guo’s ability to keep them all in play through the strict structuring and pacing of chapters and sections—makes the characters’ reactions reliably unpredictable, frequently delightful, and, at times, deeply moving.
PositivePloughsharesThough Must I Go contains the sketchy architecture of an intergenerational, historical novel, its rooms and stories remain more conceptual than actual. Characters act as analogs for one another based on shared status as widow and widower, orphan and bereaved parent. Husbands and wives are easily swapped. The defiant workings of memory are more important than memories themselves. Lives are annotated rather than recorded. Aphorisms, and the tendency of Li’s characters to offer universal truths, are frequently exposed by Lilia’s sharp pen as platitudinal wish-fulfillment ... the range and interpolation of points, from psychological to geopolitical, makes a difficult and messy novel a thought-provoking, worthwhile read ... The diaries end up reading like an exercise: Why do the daily particulars of Roland’s young adult life matter to elderly Lilia? What, between the lines, is she striving to work out? Some playful ambiguity enlivens this set-up. At times, the diaries seem entirely fabricated by Lilia, who is (reluctantly) participating in a memoir workshop with her fellow old-timers ... What sounds like comfort, especially to the ears of readers and writers, actually expresses the book’s—and Li’s—deep ambivalence between writing and its illusion of immortality and the unspeakable suffering of going on living. But Li’s wisdom is this: we don’t own the ambivalence.