PositiveDatebookAffecting ... Strong descriptions of place enhance the sweetness of their early love, and the author’s choice to add Chinese characters and meaning to the Pinyin spelling of Chinese words adds a pleasing dimension to the differences the couple are bridging ... There are shortcomings in the telling: a confusing timeline, background character work that could have been left out, and a static quality ... The novel loses tension as the strands of yarn work loose ... [Le] delivers a finely detailed depiction of love and marriage, revealed at last to Vivi and us.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleOptimistically overstuffed ... Like memory itself, the novel is freighted with imagery and desire. Hopeful themes temper the anguish, but the author’s enthusiasm for instructing us detracts from the characters’ yearning for belonging and love ... We can’t begrudge him for wanting to do something different with this book, and bravo for extending Afong Moy’s story beyond the immigrant’s plight. But like the typhoon that threatens to overwhelm a changed world, the author’s many interests, however earnestly held, risk swamping his story.
Lisa Hsiao Chen
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleLike the work of writer Rachel Cusk, who brought new thinking to what constitutes a novel, Activities of Daily Living takes chances with the form to strong effect ... In delivering a meditation on human frailty and endurance, Chen shows us how we cling to our chosen work and the hope buried within it ... The whole novel reads like a project coming into existence. As the book suggests, I’m not sure if we’re seeing art or pathology on the page, but in this case, what’s the difference? Both pass the time, and both are a form of love.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle[A] variation on George Orwell’s Animal Farm with a surging power of its own ... With ingenuity and skill, Bulawayo masterfully controls her story, switching among plotlines, voices and themes, and between past and present, with history never forgotten ... Absurdity and irony abound, providing entertainment and wincing recognition that this book has a lot to say about our own political reality ... On Bulawayo’s animal farm, citizens are powerful, and stories will raise the dead.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleReaders who enjoy a darkly imagined alternate reality will appreciate the credible details ... Chan depicts modern standards of good parenting as absurd and flags how those standards are inequitably applied depending on gender, race, culture and wealth. Deadpan observations accompany the blunt language (Frida’s ex-husband’s lover \'is on a mission to nice her to death\') ... Though logical to the story, the lessons in motherhood become repetitive, crowding out a deeper exploration of the many characters’ lives. We get tantalizing glimpses of Frida’s own childhood and ask, how did her immigrant parents’ non-Western parenting shape Frida as an adult? This is never fully developed. The story darts from point to point, posing more inquiry than illumination. But the questions are timely in this age of strident morality, the upset and tedium of pandemic parenting and creepy surveillance.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... leaps to life and doesn’t let go ... So grew up in Stockton, queer/Khmer, he said, and surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers who emigrated from Cambodia, survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. To open the book is to invite the whole crowd in, like a party that shows up after the programmed event, when there’s nothing more to perform and everyone can be honest ... There’s technical ease in the composition of these stories ... A complex, interconnected community comes into sharp focus ... With the writing of these stories as an act of witness, the life of Anthony Veasna So is over. Nothing about that statement makes any sense. Open this book and invite the party in.
Amy Mason Doan
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe filmy past and unfinished business are novelist Amy Mason Doan’s recurring subjects, and in Lady Sunshine, those themes emerge like sea glass: pretty and inviting, all sharpness smoothed away ... Doan is strongest in the flashback sections, where she moves the well-paced action between scenes of group life and the intensely private friendship that develops between Jackie and her cousin, Willa. Willa is sensitively drawn, a girl at home in the woods who sees — and hides — secrets ... From inspiration to publication, music and nostalgia make Lady Sunshine a feel-good book, and who at this moment doesn’t crave a little comfort?