RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHow lucky we are to have John Birdsall, a former professional cook and restaurant critic who writes broadly and deeply about food—which is to say, about culture, politics and what it means to be human. He shifts at ease between the glossy establishment (Food & Wine, Bon Appétit) and the more fractious iconoclasts (First We Feast, the now defunct Lucky Peach), all without ever losing sight of that simple pleasure ... Sometimes his gift is the single perfectly placed word...or a string of them, going off like a chain of fireworks ... Birdsall’s sentences have rhythm, too, and compress time and place so that a meal becomes a history ... He’s just as good with people ... This is not biography as lionization ... In this book, the more famous Beard becomes, the more he recedes. We lose him in the crowd. Birdsall has done extensive research—this is the writer’s dilemma, to have unearthed so much great material, you can’t bear to leave any of it on the cutting-room floor—and grants elaborate paragraphs to almost every person in Beard’s circle, colleagues and enemies alike, so many of them that I kept wishing for an old-fashioned dramatis personae to remind me who they were and why they mattered ... I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened had Birdsall felt freer here to bring in his personal story, beyond the confines of the prologue—to wrestle with Beard directly, to reimagine the possibilities of biography, and in doing so to tell a large story, not just of the past and how we got here but of all the ways we’re still failing ourselves now ... This is the worst thing a reviewer can do, to judge a book against the one not written. But like the greediest of diners, I want more.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"...it’s hungrily ambitious in sweep and documentary in detail, and reads like a seismograph of the aftershocks from trading one life for another ... Prickliest of all the characters is Hero’s aunt Paz...Although she’s not the heroine, in some ways she owns the book. Nothing else in it quite matches the sheer velocity and power of the opening chapter, which recounts Paz’s life in the second person, like an incantatory prophecy or benediction ... Castillo’s prose is less lyrical than propulsive, driven by rises in cadence. At times it reads as if spoken, even declaimed. Like Bulosan, she channels a righteous anger, revisiting America’s historical crimes ... The book, like its characters, roams freely among languages: English, Tagalog, Ilocano and Pangasinan. Castillo subtly makes the meaning of words known without direct translation, reminding us how much conversation consists of chain-links and muscle memory.\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewDogs at the Perimeter, first published in Canada in 2011, reads like a seed of the later novel [Do Not Say We Have Nothing]: contrapuntal and elegiac in tone, with a white heat beneath. Where Do Not Say We Have Nothing is symphonic and expansive, Dogs at the Perimeter turns inward, to the workings of a mind in flight from itself. Such are Thien’s gifts that she can write lyrically about horror without stripping it of force.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner’s first novel, tells the story of Raami’s struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge ... How is it that so much of this bleak novel is full of beauty, even joy? ... Throughout, Ratner stays true to the perspective of a child. (To be sure, a child with a poetic bent.) ... As a work of fiction, In the Shadow of the Banyan is less a testament to atrocity than a reconciliation with the past.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe New York Review of Books...more ambitious than its predecessors—thornier, funnier, and less susceptible to whimsy. It’s also more conventional, at least on the surface ... He is particularly effective working in a choral vein here, as when three generations of the Bloch clan talk all at once or a gang of filthy-mouthed boys try to one-up each other in their knowledge of sex acts ... Part of the frustration of reading Foer is how close he can come to brilliance, only to get in his own way ... There’s a moral shallowness to Foer’s concoction of a war on Israel. Its function is to bring Jacob to his personal catastrophe.