RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleAdmirable and deeply researched ... The book shines a harsh and unforgiving light on this country’s legacy of racist policies ... Her book is an important read for those interested in learning about the origins of some of today’s most hard-line immigration policy proposals in America.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe People Who Report More Stress elevates timeworn settings and themes with humor, pathos, and a relentless intersectional specificity ... A smartly curated collection that gets better as it goes along, building to the epiphanies missing in the earlier stories. Varela’s witty, observant prose lifts each of these stories, even if the premises are decidedly grounded in real world and contemporary concerns. There’s a wisdom and lightness to Varela’s work that nudges us toward the conclusion that our divisions, while there may be many, can be mended.
Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
RaveNPR\"Greek Lessons will feel like a departure from Kang\'s previous English-translated novels. It\'s an intimate and vulnerable portrayal of two lonely, middle-aged characters who can\'t help but gravitate toward each other. The reading experience is like that of watching a quiet indie film that tugs little by little at your heartstrings until you\'re rendered speechless with both sadness and hope by the final pages ... Their wordless interplay recalls the longing glances of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar-wai\'s contemporary classic film In the Mood for Love ... Though Greek Lessons might be different from Kang\'s bolder and horror-tinged works, the novel\'s hopeful and humane belief in the redemptive power of love might just be what our society needs.\
Maki Kashimada, trans. Haydn Trowell
RaveNPRLove at Six Thousand Degrees, translated by Haydn Trowell, successfully pulls off what many works about generational trauma don\'t even try: It foregrounds the contemporary individual, connecting history and the present day in merely indirect and metaphorical ways. The result is no less powerful ... A profound and deeply intelligent work, a refreshing inversion of what has become traditional trauma narratives, in which history is presented as an inescapable, fatalistic force informing every contemporary outcome. The novel is also formally inventive, with the woman narrating her story in both first and third person.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Laughter is an impressive performance, a disturbing character study of a man who views himself as the literal white knight in almost every scenario. Harding, however, never quite rises above being an avatar of the ugly American stereotype. Some of his actions and views strain credulity and feel overdetermined ... The Laughter seems to argue that the worst consequences of these structures are immutable and inevitable. Harding’s transformation — if there is one — is a devolution from workplace lust to a fatalistic level of criminality. Harding expresses little remorse or accountability for his actions, and that seems to be the somewhat heavy-handed point.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Have You Eaten Yet? is similar to Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, though Kwan’s writing is more equanimous than Bourdain’s ... Kwan describes the racism his subjects experience primarily through a historical lens, without digging very deeply into the implications of structural racism today. Readers will learn about injustices they likely weren’t aware of ... Poignant as these immigrant stories are, they blur together over the course of the book. Even the dishes Kwan and his crew enjoy are repeated; Kwan says they are delicious, no matter how they’ve been adapted to suit the tastes of locals. Have You Eaten Yet? isn’t the most provocative read, but it will certainly leave you hungry for Chinese food.\
PositiveDatebookA meticulously researched novel ... Entertaining as The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is, the book elides greater insights into the North Korean refugee experience in favor of a fast, fairy-tale ending that fails to explain the narrator’s specific interest or relationship to Jun-su’s remarkable journey or drive home its thematic significance.
Kevin Chen tr. Darryl Sterk
PositiveNPRAs multigenerational family sagas go, they don\'t get more intense and operatic than Ghost Town ... reminiscent of the dreamlike narratives of Can Xue and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and will require readers to hold on tight to their sense of reality as the prose blurs lines between the living and the dead, the past and the present, and finally, the guilty and the innocent ... a maximalist performance that often walks the fine line between echoic and repetitive ... Despite the darkness of the material, the passion in the prose is unmistakable, and there are many lovely moments ... Even though the plot kicks off with a murder mystery, the heart of the novel is about Keith\'s coming of age of a gay man in a conservative rural town. His sisters, each in their own ways, are empathetic to Keith\'s difficult upbringing and pine for their brother to come home. The Chen family\'s collective longing to reunite in the face of constant tragedy fuels an exhilarating and often quite moving reading experience. Ghost Town is simply tough to put down and you\'ll be thinking about the Chens long after you\'ve left Yongjing.
MixedNPRThe book\'s twist on the familiar post-apocalyptic setup is that the main character can\'t remember anything ... The flashbacks, intended to make Adam\'s pre-apocalyptic existence relatable to readers, start to feel like less than the sum of their parts as the book goes on. By the second half of the novel, we\'re not learning much new information about Adam\'s family, only that Adam is still mourning ... Amidst the survivalist misery, City of Orange poses an interesting question about manmade climate catastrophes ... The narrative, however, doesn\'t answer this question ... he metaphysics of humanity\'s negligence of its responsibility for the planet\'s survival aren\'t addressed thematically or through the book\'s characters ... City of Orange could have used more inspired, surreal exchanges like that one to transcend the post-apocalyptic genre tropes that this novel mostly rehashes, rather than reinvents.
Isaac Stone Fish
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleFish’s case against American elites is more compelling than his own murky revelations of self-censorship ... far from a full-throated, or particularly detailed, confession. America Second is a provocative read that will surely make one wonder if there are any powerful Americans whose hands are clean in relation to China’s rise as an authoritarian superpower.
Mark L Clifford
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleClifford’s authoritative reportage makes for gripping reading. But the book gets bogged down in repetition and starts to feel like a long-form magazine feature stretched across 300 pages. His assertion that China’s ambition is to suppress free thought the world over feels underbaked, despite numerous examples of China pulling levers of intimidation beyond its borders. Like Russian disinformation campaigns, it’s hard to know the scale and reach of China’s harassment methods abroad, and unfortunately, Clifford fails to shed much more light than what has already been reported in the mainstream media.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle[A] moving account of a Millennial who watches the free and international city in which she was born and raised slowly devolve into an oppressed society. With bracing honesty, Cheung writes about growing up in a broken family, finding belonging in the Hong Kong indie music scene, and becoming one of the million or more people who took to the streets ... Impossible City is full of details about Hong Kong life not commonly known by American readers, from the way the city’s government keeps property prices artificially high to the 100-week waits for psychiatric appointments in the overloaded public health system ... a deeply felt lamentation about a flawed, yet free, society becoming subsumed by authoritarianism.
Elaine Hsieh Chou
RaveThe Washington PostThe hyperactive satire is so consistently funny it almost makes the reader forget about the serious societal issues that undergird the humor ... As a comedic heroine, Ingrid is easy to root for, due mainly to her bumbling nature and the fact that she’s surrounded by White people of dubious character ... Admirably, the book doesn’t just take shots at problematic White people. Supporting characters highlight unsavory aspects of the Asian American experience as well ... On occasion, Chou shoots for laughs over character consistency and plausibility ... Despite these speed bumps, Disorientation does what great comedies and satires are supposed to do: make you laugh while forcing you to ponder the uncomfortable implications of every punchline. In this book’s universe, for example, the authenticity of every interracial relationship is questioned. Chou’s novel is a promising debut, one that makes this reader look forward to what she will make fun of next.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... [a] page-turner ... From this pulse-pounding beginning, the novel settles into a light, earthbound family drama that brushes upon darker themes, without exploring them too deeply at the risk of slowing the book’s rollicking plot ... contains a sometimes uneasy tension between the stakes of planetary survival in a sprawling Star Wars-like conflict and the interpersonal stakes of making a family whole again. This friction makes it hard to take either set of conflicts too seriously and results in unusually broad lines ... When the right balance is struck, however, the consciousness of this space warrior approaches a kind of wisdom that might resonate to those coming to terms with the way our lives have changed since the global pandemic began ... The novel’s third act cleverly uses some alien science to deliver a denouement that is quite moving. Light Years From Home is a fun sci-fi potboiler that stays close to the human heart, even when it’s about aliens in a galaxy far, far away.
Jay Caspian Kang
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThe book calls out that there are huge swaths of Asian Americans who are not upwardly mobile, well-educated members of a \'multicultural elite,\' but unfortunately, mostly tells the stories of the high achievers. Consequently, his broad proclamations about Asian Americans, like the following, feel vague ... The Loneliest Americans is most successful when it doesn’t presume to speak for some imagined Asian American community to fulfill the book’s stated purpose ... Kang, perhaps best known for his reportage on unusual mutations of Asian American masculinity for the New York Times and the New Yorker, notes an Asian American fraternity’s hazing ritual that ends in tragedy, as well as his interactions with an Asian American incel (involuntary celibate) group. The introduction and chapters where these appear, along with a fascinating chapter on the rise of Flushing, Queens, N.Y., as an immigrant enclave, feel the most fully baked, and will be edifying to both white and nonwhite readers.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a sprawling and impressive work ... Starting with how Spanish colonialism knocked Samaha’s ancestors out of royalty, the book’s historical retellings span hundreds of years and ultimately result in a scathing indictment of America’s role in shaping the modern history of the Philippines ... Samaha, an investigative journalist, unearths a wealth of documentation that runs counter to the kinder, gentler version of American history we’re taught in school ... especially timely, reminding us of the promises America fails to keep.
MixedNPR... fascinating and mysterious ... Kitamura seems to intentionally test the boundaries of how little biographical information an author can reveal about a protagonist while still making the reader feel intimately connected to them ... Readers will get a sense of both the importance and the futility of the International Criminal Court ... I couldn\'t help but crave a more open, incautious narrator, someone who is more than, as the accused puts it, \'part of the institution that [she] serve[s].\' The novel effectively comments on the elusiveness of intimacy, but perhaps at the cost of the reader\'s emotional connection to the narrator. How much of what is factually revealed helps one understand a situation — or a person — more intimately? Even the journalists covering the International Criminal Court \'had merely fragments of the narrative and yet they would assemble those fragments into a story like any other story, a story with the appearance of unity.\' Kitamura\'s novel has its own appearance of unity, but ultimately illustrates how one\'s interpretations can fail to help them see the world in which they live.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel
PositiveThe Washington Post... will satisfy [Murakami\'s] fans and serve as a fine introduction to neophytes, echoing many of the uncanny scenarios of his earlier work ... The specter of mortality looms larger in First Person Singular than in Murakami’s other work. In the stories that relive defining incidents from a narrator’s youth, Murakami’s characters no longer wonder what might have been ... These eight stories, all told in first person, are unapologetically Murakami. Whether its talking monkeys or reverential passages on Charlie Parker or Beatles albums, First Person Singular doesn’t break much new ground, but it will remind readers why Murakami’s work is singular.
PositiveNPRWhen Liang is wrongly accused of a crime by his neighbors, a misunderstanding that he doesn\'t have the English proficiency to refute, it\'s the closest thing to something happening in the book ... Like many books about Chinese American immigrants, the most compelling moments come from the characters\' pasts. Particularly poignant is the story of Liang\'s mother, who dies in an accidental fall shortly after giving birth to her son ... Though Han\'s intent was clearly to keep this novel quiet, I did wish that so much of the drama wasn\'t left to the imagination. The story glosses over Liang\'s interactions with law enforcement after he\'s accused, as well as Patty and Liang\'s painful decision to separate. After the pivotal accusation, I expected the plot to come to a boil, but instead it returned to a simmer – and stayed there ... Nights When Nothing Happened is a brief novel best read slowly, so one can savor the resonance and originality Han wrings from the quotidian. Readers should expect an experience more like watching a Wong Kar-wai film than a Kathryn Bigelow one; Han\'s gift at zeroing in on matters of the conflicted heart is its own reward.
PositiveThe Washington Post... Ivy’s fall feels lurid, like watching a reality-show train wreck spiral from one bad decision to the next ... The publisher bills White Ivy as a debut that \'turns the immigrant novel on its head,\' but it’s unclear how the Lins’s immigration status seeds Ivy’s obsession with the Speyers ... While the title seems to allude to Ivy coveting Whiteness, neither she nor any of the characters seem to register the racial or gendered implications of their actions ... Even in the absence of more incisive social commentary, White Ivy is still a highly entertaining, well-plotted character study about a young woman whose obsession with the shallow signifiers of success gets her in too deep.
RaveThe Rumpus... one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time ... Droll, scatological, and delightfully subversive in its gender portrayals ... Butler is a ninja at conjuring Jillian’s peculiar mental state in her internal monologues, which are mundane, absurd, and foreboding all at once ... a hilarious portrayal of those urban twenty-something years—that age before you’ve made any choices to define yourself, and everything is a placeholder for an uncertain future that scares you ... a darkly comic allegory about America, a nation pathologically unwilling to make tough choices for a better tomorrow, but quite willing to trade substantive change for ephemeral satisfaction (i.e. spiritual junk food). Read that way, Butler’s novel is not just the funniest book I’ve read in a long time, but also one of the most important ones.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... funny and poignant...couldn’t come at a better time ... Tenorio skillfully wrings high comedy from his characters’ boxed-in lives in a country that doesn’t know what to do with them ... Like the main characters of many coming-of-age novels, Excel’s retiring nature makes him less compelling than his supporting players. For instance, Maxima, a martial arts expert and internet-savvy firebrand, steals every scene she’s in...Tenorio nevertheless finds moments to highlight the son of good fortune’s pathos ... The novel’s back half centers on a big con, with Maxima and Excel teaming up to scam a white guy looking for love (that he can pay for). The line between the exploited and the exploiter blurs in fascinating and uncomfortable ways. The Son of Good Fortune is a timely novel that leaves its central question unanswered: Can’t we, as a nation, do better?
RaveThe RumpusDroll, scatological, and delightfully subversive in its gender portrayals, Jillian is what the TV show Girls would be if 1) it were a novel and 2) it were at its best every week ... Butler is a ninja at conjuring Jillian’s peculiar mental state in her internal monologues, which are mundane, absurd, and foreboding all at once ... Jillian is a hilarious portrayal of those urban twenty-something years—that age before you’ve made any choices to define yourself, and everything is a placeholder for an uncertain future that scares you ... Jillian is a darkly comic allegory about America, a nation pathologically unwilling to make tough choices for a better tomorrow, but quite willing to trade substantive change for ephemeral satisfaction (i.e. spiritual junk food). Read that way, Butler’s novel is not just the funniest book I’ve read in a long time, but also one of the most important ones.
PositiveThe RumpusLes Innocents is bursting at the seams and degrading the sanitation of the first arrondissement. The smells of the dead seep into air, food, and water, requiring residents to breathe through perfumed handkerchiefs. The pits of the mass graves are so overcrowded that excess bones are stored in charnel houses along the cemetery walls … The difficult and symbolic task of emptying Les Innocents and moving its bones to the Catacombs of Montparnasse will change Baratte and the cemetery’s surrounding community forever. Those on sanity’s edge go mad. Many are lured in by the shadows, lost to tragic fates. Love surprises the engineer, like a lurking ghost. In the muddy delirium, among the bones, Baratte finds moments of hope in his grim work as the future’s shepherd.
MixedElectric LiteratureBock captures how you can feel dropped into an ocean of new clinical vocabulary, each word carrying life-and-death stakes ... Bock also painstakingly renders our American healthcare system in all its logic-free anti-glory ... The novel is weaker, however, in its depiction of Alice and Oliver as individuals...Both come close to being Manhatttanite clichés: well-educated, creative, and most notably, privileged...No one in the book calls Alice and Oliver out on their difficult behavior, and neither character seems particularly bothered by the fact that every annoying person on their grim journey happens to be a person of color, while everyone helpful is white ... As a novel about marriage, Alice and Oliver is at its most successful. Bock paints how marriage can help these two flawed individuals transcend their own limitations in a time of crisis.