MixedThe AtlanticBut the notion of Beard as the keeper of America’s culinary flame merits more skepticism than the book allows, especially when it comes to American cuisine’s non-European influences ... Birdsall makes clear that Beard was focused on the food of European immigrants, a quiet acknowledgment that Beard didn’t seek to speak for all Americans or all their foodways ... Yet throughout the book, Birdsall also essentially describes Beard as the soul of a national cuisine, with no real competing narratives to that central one. Caveats are no match for this grand thesis ... Birdsall is at his best when he focuses squarely on Beard—unearthing his connections to other queer luminaries, and tracing the lines between his memories and his palate. Perhaps a deeper consideration of non-Eurocentric American cooking is too much to ask of a book about this one man’s life. But Birdsall seems to want to tell more than the story of a life, and that’s where he overextends—claiming that Beard embodied American food, instead of letting his subject be important enough on his own.
Yun Ko-Eun, Trans. by Lizzie Buehler
PositiveThe AtlanticAlthough it was first published in Korean in 2013, this tale of complicity and denial (reintroduced in a new English translation by Lizzie Buehler this summer) feels nauseatingly on point this year ... The Disaster Tourist comes close to being oppressive at times, especially in Yona’s seemingly uncritical view of a workplace that keeps her down ... Yun allows her characters just a few moments of solace and connection—and a surprising show of solidarity, right when all seems lost. Ultimately, though, they don’t rail against the system they’re stuck inside. They are resigned to it, or they enable it, and they’re annihilated anyway.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Son of Good Fortune is not overtly political, remaining vague about the pressures the U.S. government puts on people like Excel and Maxima. Tenorio’s insistence on the specificity of his characters’ dreams and longings is its own kind of argument for their right to be here. The women in this book—Maxima, Sab, Maxima’s friend Roxy—are by the far the strongest and most compelling characters. And compared to his mother’s online scheming, Excel’s digital and real-life naïveté sometimes feel unconvincing, as though we’re meant to believe that hermetic disconnectedness is a form of self-protection. Still, Tenorio finds a way for Excel to exercise his own kind of nonconfrontational power ... Ultimately Tenorio’s novel is an affecting portrayal of just how potently a parent can shape the expectations of her child.