PositiveChicago Review of BooksThematically, Liar, Dreamer, Thief takes on corporate apathy, childhood trauma, and literary mystery, and at times the novel manages to handle all of them at once ... While the book proves a snappy page-turner, with Katrina’s voice shining through, there are pacing issues stemming from this multitude of ideas that ultimately hold it back from greatness ... We spend much of the novel establishing Katrina’s worldview and voice, and while the mystery is not yet set into motion, these meanderings are well worth reading and propelled forward by Katrina’s unique perspective ... The underlying mystery is ultimately less interesting than Katrina’s exploration of the world, and the novel could have remained in this lane or provided more time for the characters to reveal themselves, their stories, and their motivations ... Still, Liar, Dreamer, Thief is a fascinating hybrid between coming of age novel, workplace novel, and literary thriller. By anchoring a character as fascinating as Katrina Kim, Maria Dong creates a captivating, if at times uneven, story rooted in modern obsession and repressed trauma.
MixedChicago Review of BooksNg traverses familiar territory of fraught familial dynamics and the multifaceted nature of identity. While the characters’ interpersonal relationships have moments of brilliance, they ultimately feel smothered under Ng’s world-building and lead to lingering questions long after the book has ended ... Bird, our inquisitive preteen protagonist, is thoughtful and understated like many of Ng’s child characters ... These early chapters introduce much more, namely the crushing weight of PACT, the aforementioned nationalistic legislation. PACT is mentioned on nearly every page of the first few chapters, delivered literally as didactic schoolwork, and lays the foundation for what will come. Its inclusion makes sense, but doing so at this pace leaves little room for Bird to flourish as a character. While much of the book is narrated in his perspective through a limited third person, said style keeps the boy at arms length from the reader. Ultimately, the balance of world-building to characterization, especially in the first half of the novel, leads to little interest in Bird himself apart from his relation to his enigmatic mother ... Ultimately the novel stands on Ng’s depiction of the world, which gathers its power from its close proximity to how we live today ... The project proves ambitious, absorbing, and thought-provoking, but often imbalanced, and could have supported an even greater page length in the number of topics it attempts to cover.
MixedChicago Review of BooksWhile the novel features a broad cast of characters, few prove memorable...There is much to Meet Us by the Roaring Sea that does not meet the eye, and this is a book that commands a greater focus and closer attention than I anticipated as a reader...And while individual passages shimmer and terrify, the book as a whole leaves dangling threads that go beyond the unanswered questions of thought-provoking narrative...We never truly comprehend our protagonist, just as our protagonist rarely seems to comprehend the world around her.
RaveChicago Review of BooksBhat’s novel place[s] an emphasis on breadth over depth ... The novel is a yearbook extending long past the awkward years of adolescence, and as Nina develops an awareness of the world around herself, the novel sprawls out of control as seemingly discrete events overlap one another and lead us to wonder if there is a plan to the madness ... Structurally the novel resembles a short story collection, the book broadly divided into two parts with each snapshot of Nina’s life given a title and its own narrative arc. But rather than picking and choosing individual snapshots that stand out above the rest, it is clear that Nina’s voice gains strength over the years ... Perhaps the strongest sections of the novel are the ones that highlight Nina’s many identities ... These identities, like the sections of the book itself, overlap and crash against one another. Nina is nothing if not real. Her self-centeredness is hard to swallow but easy to consume; there is a palpable familiarity there ... I came to The Most Precious Substance on Earth for a character study, and a character study was what I received—one stretched by the length of decades, rather than homing in on a specific era or time, but a character study all the same. Nina frustrates, humors, horrifies, and exhilarates in the scope of these pages. Reading her life on the page, though fictional, feels voyeuristic in that dusty-yearbook way, and ultimately I truly lost myself in the spectatorship.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books\"...an entertaining, casual book with the tone of a dinner table conversation. While detailed and multifaceted, the book is very much Shelton’s perspective from beginning to end, and does not pretend to be a comprehensive history...It is a memoir with very specific framing, and under these parameters the book certainly delivers ... The details, the inspiration, the writing routine—in these chapters we’re gifted a craft book and textual analysis all at once, and the experience is unbelievably rich ... Shelton’s writing voice is clear and good-humored, and while nothing groundbreaking, the book embodies the vintage wistfulness and romance that the movie continues to represent.\
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksI find myself wondering if this too is translation, the act of summarizing and distilling her many thoughts on the matter in a succinct volume. I would not have thought it so before reading this book ... But while Lahiri’s essays can be arcane and dense to those unfamiliar with the craft, the best of them appeal to something broader ... many of my personal critiques of Translating Myself and Others stem from my unfamiliarity with the subject material, and the projection of expectations onto the narrative ... From a writing perspective there is great joy and intrigue to be found in Lahiri’s ruminations on self-translation, the idea of a living manuscript that inherently changes shape when translated from one language to another, both the new text and the original ... This is a collection to be read in bits and pieces, some of it most suitable for the translators among us, but others broadly accessible. This is a love letter to not only translation, but to literary criticism as a whole. Its existence as art, science, and craft, something to be deeply appreciated.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksOver and over these stories show us the various facets of motherhood, women who struggle or triumph or unequivocally fail in its practice. The realities are, if not surreal, hopelessly messy. Yet the collection is far from one-note and dreary. In several stories, Bieker takes on new voices and lets humor shine through ... If the collection loses focus at all, it is in its later stories that take us into the past, into raisin farming, internalized bigotry, and tellings of the past that provide context for earlier stories. While these tales...show off Bieker’s ability to inhabit other personas, not just wounded mothers and daughters, they lack the impact of the earlier stories, perhaps by showing off familiar characters, or perhaps by coming in late in an already densely packed book. Nevertheless, Heartbroke is a multilayered and oft-surprising take on a forgotten place in California.
Perumal Murugan, tr. Aniruddhan Vasudevan
PositiveChicago Review of BooksThe novel is noticeably short and sticks to a single, linear plot with only a few flashbacks and deviations from the story at hand. In this respect, the work is a triumph, understanding its inherent simplicity and wasting no time in setup and execution ... Murugan’s prose is plainspoken and eschews romanticism for arid landscapes and backbreaking labor. A tone of unsteadiness begins from the moment Saroja steps off the bus and continues to the novel’s hurtling, uncertain end. We are given few moments of respite to catch our breath, only crumbs of levity, and none of us hold out hope for a miracle. This renders the novel not especially complex, and one wonders if more nuanced characters in the face of caste violence would lead to a more compelling narrative. Elevating this book from \'problem novel\' status is the focus on the romantic relationship between Saroja and Kumaresan, a genuine longing between them that is shown in both perspectives. Most pointedly, her sexual desire is as evident as his, a refreshing take on otherwise old-world themes. The romance makes further events of the book all the more heartbreaking, and serves to flesh out at least these two characters. While Pyre is an exploration of the regional and specific, what with its integration of Tamil words even in the translated text, along with regional foods and turns of phrase, the broad strokes characterizations of caste and familial dynamics hinder the book from being as effective as it could be. Nevertheless, within its short page count, Murugan gives us a tight narrative, a memorable love story, and a truly unforgettable ending.
Elaine Hsieh Chou
RaveChicago Review of BooksIn the conversation surrounding Elaine Hsieh Chou’s debut novel Disorientation, I expect to see discussion of her carefully crafted satire, her inclusion and destruction of campus tropes, and the meticulous unpacking of Asian American identity in the lens of violence and fetishism. These should all be discussed, but I hope the conversation also includes its readability. Because the novel is captivating, irresistible, and intensely readable, and what we ultimately come to literature to find ... It can be difficult to envision a book tackling themes of identity, systemic discrimination, and exclusion as laden with humor, but this book certainly delivers ... As Ingrid navigates her relationships with each of these people, witnessing herself growing and changing as a result, the narrative moves at a snappy pace and keeps the reader careening into the next chapter ... In many ways, the book holds up to the challenge, but in its effort to balance its varying themes and relationships, the novel can read didactic. In some ways, it does attempt to split the difference between nonfiction discourse and engaging fictional satire, and when it veers too far in the former direction, the result is heavy-handedness ... Nevertheless, what Disorientation shows us is that there is power in the page-turner, that literary merit and a unique, propelling story are not mutually exclusive. Of course, those of us who love reading know this already, but books like this show us that it never hurts to be reminded.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe essays have little narrative throughline, thrusting us forward and back in time, touching on topics as disparate as couchsurfing to book reviews to the buildup and breakdown of relationships. The constant here is Attenberg herself, and the collection is all the stronger for it ... Attenberg is at her most evocative when she digs into details, and details abound in this collection ... Each essay is loosely structured around a single topic, but each tends to meander from anecdote to anecdote. In most of these, Attenberg’s casual yet incisive voice shines through, as if we’re sharing stories in a cozy room with glasses of wine in hand. However, this does not mean that the content itself is always breezy ... A drawback lies perhaps more in expectation than quality. For those expecting a collection more overtly about writing, this may read disappointing ... It is a craft book in that it leads by example, shows us a writing life and a devotion to craft that we can all aspire to, even if we never traverse the world. Even though my life is on a very different path from Attenberg’s despite our shared origins, this is something I can take with me in my own practice.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksIn this latest collection Siri Hustvedt demonstrates her tremendous range as an essayist, with topics ranging from motherhood to reading during a pandemic to misogyny to Jane Austen’s expertise in rhetoric. Even within individual essays in Mothers, Fathers, and Others she jumps from topic to topic, and this diversity presents a dichotomy of sorts. While the variety keeps each essay interesting and creates a picture of well-rounded, holistic arguments, the essays at times feel unfocused and meandering, varying in density and interest level. At its best it is engaging, at its worst pedantic, but it has something for almost anyone ... While the facts and arguments may seem familiar, such as contrasting the expectations of fathers versus mothers, Hustvedt pinpoints the philosophy behind them in a unique, accessible way ... Many of the longer essays run into this issue, relying more on digression than thematic cohesion. It is why the shorter essays in this collection ring true ... Hustvedt’s collection as a whole reads like a personal diary, albeit the well-thought out diary of an accomplished, knowledgeable person ... The standout essays are truly memorable, and for this the collection is worth exploring, and has certainly piqued my interest in Hustvedt’s lengthy bibliography.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... a detailed work that calls upon both the specificity of the character’s experience, as well as the universality of the disillusioned millennial, and becomes a novel of broad, unexpected appeal ... This single line transforms this novel from detailed character study to something more universal and relatable, to readers Turkish and non-Turkish, to anyone that has come from someone and deals with their own inadequacy ... However, Sibel’s perspective only goes so far as we navigate the multitude of conflicts in The Four Humors. We are ultimately overwhelmed by her grandmother’s illness and family secrets, extended relatives with their own input, the legacy of a deceased father, illnesses in Sibel’s sister and other family, passive-aggressive confrontations with friends, the ups and downs of a college romance, and so much more. To compensate, the book reads long, attempting to tackle all of these threads in Sibel’s subtle, distant voice. Perhaps a more focused narrative could aid the novel along, de-emphasizing supporting characters and bringing our attention back to the four humors themselves, which at times are lost as the novel goes on ... a worthy addition to the growing catalog of millennial diaspora stories. We do not fall in love with Sibel, nor should we, though we may empathize with her headfirst journey into adulthood. Seçkin nails certain unappreciated subtleties, such as family loving a white partner more than yourself, or one’s accent and knowledge of politics called into question due to nationality. Sibel lived before this tale and will live on long after the pages come to an end, and in this respect, the novel truly shines.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksChris Stuck knows what he’s doing. In Give My Love to the Savages, his debut short story collection, deliberation and intention shine through. These are stories centered around the anguishes of Black men, rendered here as both heroes and antiheroes. The stories are forthright with their unpacking of masculinity, grief, and identity. And at their best, they linger ceaselessly in the mind ... Where these explorations of masculinity fall slightly short are in the more absurdist stories of the collection ... Overall, however, Stuck presents us with a strong, focused debut collection. He creates nuanced characters, crafts varied perspectives on race and gender in America, and shows off his talent for economy of words and sharp dialogue throughout the book. As a young Indian-American woman, likely not of Chris Stuck’s intended audience, I enjoyed this collection on the outside looking in, and revel in this perspective. To me this collection helps debunk the idea that men are not privy to their own flaws and insecurities. Rather, when these are claimed and understood, art can result.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksIn Lucy Corin’s The Swank Hotel, there are moments of pure clarity. In its explorations of corporate America, of familial loss and grief, and of 2008 recession-era life, the novel shines. But in its interstitial space, darting from one narrator to another in the tangled web of love, relationships, and confusion, the novel puzzles. This is not a book to read in an afternoon, but one to chew and digest over time. And when given this space, we still may not understand ... On corporate life, Corin nails the crafted persona such an environment craves, showing us that there is an inherent madness in our day to day lives ... It is in these moments that the novel comes together, but in its inclusion of the surreal, things fly off the rails. Strange dreams permeate the minds of Em, Frank, and other characters. A sewn-up mouth jars the reader, but what it adds up to remains to be seen. Sexuality and horror, in the form of extended pornography scenes and pages of dead baby jokes achieve a tone of aversion, but read as accessories to the main throughlines ... While some digressions, such as the My Strange Addiction episode summary on urine drinking, contribute to the characters’ struggles with madness, others feel like dangling threads without resolution. The structure of the work veers from novel to collection of isolated vignettes, reminiscent of Corin’s earlier work One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. But in this work the vignettes are abandoned and return to the main story and its central players, leaving the reader wondering what their ultimate significance really was ... The novel is far from comfortable, its ideas and prose are densely packed. Corin’s skill as a prose stylist cannot be discounted, she demonstrates over and over a deep understanding of her characters and literary ideas. But how these ideas come through on the page is wholly uneven. The novel begs for rumination in between periods of confusion. Such is the nature of madness.
RaveChicago Review of BooksShruti Swamy’s The Archer is a searing portrait of the woman artist—how these identities, too, are in opposition—and, in this work, she brings to life new ideas of fulfillment ... The novel itself is a character study, a real-time tale of self-actualization, and revels in the specific and minute. Even India she brings down to its smallest circles—a single village, an engineering college, a rich man’s house. In this specificity, the writing shines, aiming not to make broad, sweeping statements but to fill in the colors of our artist’s life. Vidya forms few close bonds throughout the book, but each one is exquisite ... As a whole, the novel infuriates, exhilarates, and challenges our ideas of art and artistry. It immerses us in a microcosm of a setting and in an introspective sole protagonist. It does justice to an age-old myth and recontextualizes its lessons ... Swamy has defined herself as a bold new voice in not only South Asian diaspora literature, but modern literature as a whole.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksWe are anchored in the here and now, yet the stories do not read as grasping for relevance, or as dated. Rather, Sayrafiezadeh captures one of the most essential feelings of the modern-day United States, apathy, and holds us to that feeling. The result is an at-times subtle, at-times on the nose, depiction of deterioration and uncertainty in a changing nation ... This slim collection brings us just seven stories, but most are long enough to flesh out entire ideas and realized narratives. Some of these narratives prove simpler than others ... The apathy has its shortcomings as Sayrafiezadeh delves into some of the more shocking subject matter of the collection. For instance, the story Fairground is a retrospective telling of a public hanging. What the story ultimately becomes is the exploration of a family in disarray, a failure to bond with a new step-parent, and a difficult mother-child relationship. While the descriptive writing remains strong throughout, it’s easy to want stronger emotional moments to pair with a public hanging. Instead, the tone stays consistent and the collection marches along, rendering everything in a tonal lull ... By closing his collection with an embrace of realism, Sayrafiezadeh leaves us with the understanding that in every iteration, we’ve been reading about America all along. Its doldrums, flaws, shortcomings, and the myriad of characters that grow and thrive within its borders.
RaveChicago Review of BooksIt is not unusual for a memoir to describe the decline and aftermath of a loved one, and what it means to move on ... Michelle Zauner’s take is exquisitely detailed and wonderfully layered, both episodic in its individual essays and continuous in its exploration of grief. Its depictions of motherhood and daughterhood stand alone ... The essays lose their episodic nature and weave together as a cohesive memoir. Themes mentioned earlier are picked up and carried on ... It’s a natural impulse to reminisce and block out sour memories when remembering someone lost. Creating a new picture from the pieces we have. Zauner, however, shows us all the pieces. We see how her mother’s legacy lives in its fragmented way, in photographs, family members, and recipes ... I came to Crying in H Mart expecting to cry (which I did), but what I did not expect was the amount of self-reflection it would cause. Zauner eschews broad platitudes and makes her work relatable, both on a cultural and personal level. She does not overexplain her Korean heritage, doesn’t provide a footnote for every morsel of food ... In this book, Zauner brings us all in so close that we’re left with no other option but to examine our own lives just as closely.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... the beauty of Red Island House is that it is now, spanning a time from the early nineties to present day. Colonialism and its legacies are alive and well, though our understanding of it may be more complex ... the beauty of Red Island House is that it is now, spanning a time from the early nineties to present day. Colonialism and its legacies are alive and well, though our understanding of it may be more complex ... At times the novel changes course, becoming what feels like a set of short stories telling the tale of other island residents...While these journeys are engaging, they take us away from Shay’s narrative and can feel meandering at times ... Nevertheless, Naratrany is a captivating setting, made more so by Andrea Lee’s choice in narration. Rather than a conventional third person narration focused on Shay, Lee takes a few steps back and tells Shay’s story like a fable for the ages ... a difficult work to characterize: part novel, part collection, part epic. Lee shows us a new setting, its natural beauty and stark class divisions, and its rich culture and settler exploitation. By centering Shay she shows us the nuance of privilege and culpability. She takes care to focus on the voices of foreigners, stating in a detailed author’s note her deep affection for Malagasy literature and the need for own voices narratives. More than anything, Andrea Lee shows us that the conversation on colonialism is far from over, and far from one-dimensional. To acknowledge its presence is to acknowledge how many of us, in one way or another, have a small part to play.
María José Ferrada, tr. Elizabeth Bryer
RaveChicago Review of BooksIn How to Order the Universe, readers are thrown into a child’s perspective as she eschews traditional learning in order to make a living with her father on the road. A world of tools and hardware catalogs lends itself to new relationships, unearthed secrets, and a coming-of-age story no one quite expected. This sparse, quiet novel is itself a collection of parts. Not quite a novel, far from a collection of stories, more disparate vignettes than anything else. At times, these feel incomplete. Parts without their fittings ... In short, this is a book of a child learning her own mortality, learning her larger place in the world, creating her own constructs and having them fall apart with experience and tragedy. We see this in a literal sense, as M envisions an omnipotence she calls \'The Great Carpenter,\' and soon curses and loses track of this being. In this change we now have the fittings we need to understand this unconventional little story. Here we learn to read between the lines.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksWith a tightly controlled narrative voice and careful use of flashbacks, Doshi presents the result of unpacked generational trauma. Uncertainty, instability, chaos ... The prose is calculated and focused on mundane details and introspection. There is little to no sentimentality and an undercurrent of paranoia which makes for at times a deeply uncomfortable read. Even in the most melodramatic moments, there is a coldness and detachment ... What Doshi presents is no simple mother-daughter conflict. It is a voyeuristic journey into alternative living and religious fervor. It is the emptiness of middle-class existence and perfunctory friendships. It is a marriage void of true intimacy, motherhood brought about for the wrong reasons. It is all of these things and more. This is a layered, descriptive, at times distasteful novel that brings us face to face with our own darker impulses and deep-seated traumas. Antara, though a victim in many ways, abuses others, which can make readers struggle to understand her. Doshi’s novel is a warning of what can arise when the past is not unearthed, not shared, and healing hasn’t begun. This is a book worthy of respect and admiration, and deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist. It can be hard to love a book when the characters are stingy with love and affection and forthcoming with long-held loathing. But as a contained, haunting narrative, the book excels ... Despite the shock and visceral disgust I felt in reaction to some of the book’s twists and turns, I would be lying if I said the misery in this book, particularly experienced by its characters, did not give me a small, twisted pleasure.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksThe prose of this novel is sparse and somewhat conversational, reflecting Lucien’s age and the bleakness of a Minnesota winter. We’re thrown into lengthy descriptions of dated technology and Christian meditation, but as someone unacquainted with either, I found the verbiage easy to navigate. The Land reads quickly, for a time ... The Land spreads itself thin with atmosphere, with paranoia, with characters that float in and out, with mysterious ravens that spill their carnage in the snow. But the plot propels itself, compelling readers to the end. And the discomfort lives on. 1999 was twenty-one years ago, but the threat of white supremacy unfortunately remains.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksThe Finisher is distinct in my mind due to its integration of technology, its multiple perspectives, and its banter between characters ... As a mystery itself, it’s quite compelling and demands to be read in a single, long sitting. Where it falters, though, is in some of its literary elements. Lovesey’s characters sometimes serve as plot elements rather than full-fledged people. One character, simply known as Jones, provides a vaguely deus ex machina role in the overall story. Narratives are picked up and set aside at whim and, at times, information is withheld a little too long to be seen as believable. Some plot threads feel unresolved, especially given the amount of time we’re given with the characters in question. Perhaps the greatest detractor here, however, is dialogue. Much of the novel is spent in banter, all pleasingly British and perhaps compelling to Lovesey’s longtime fans. As a new reader, I found it distracting. We’re held in meandering conversations for pages on end ... Despite the flaws in The Finisher, I came away impressed by the storytelling, the relative pace of the plot, and of the frequent twists and turns that made this a compelling read.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... clear, satisfying, and fruitful ... much to admire ... Close relationships between characters throb with passion, even when given little time to develop ... The novel is at its best in its quiet moments, when Djola and Awa’s narratives intertwine, and long-held emotions and confessions are brought to the forefront. In a war-torn landscape, with hardly a moment to breathe, these quiet moments are a place of refuge ... Where I, as a new fantasy reader, fell short was in understanding the details of the world as a whole. Many times I read a language or societal role, never quite internalized its significance, and found it come back over and over again and reminding me of my lack of understanding ... Hairston’s worldbuilding is complex, frequently layered, and to look for a simplistic, clean-cut magic system is to search fruitlessly ... While we’re frequently reminded of Xhalan Xhala, spell of all spells, its true significance and origins remain murky and difficult to interpret. Part of the overall confusion I attribute to my own lack of experience in new worlds. Yet I am left to wonder if the novel being so grand in scope could have focused more time in developing the characters and their relationships to one another. More moments of levity, to break from the tension. More frequent reminders of when all is lost, what these characters are ultimately living for. More moments of humanity ... at its core, Master of Poisons is a novel of folklore, of corruption, of both reclaiming tradition and starting anew, and honoring myriad voices in society (the powerful and marginalized). One can delight in the multifaceted worldbuilding, the many languages and threads of folklore, and the blending of the real world and the spirit world. For new fantasy readers, the novel is ultimately grounded in all too familiar themes, those of acceptance, survival, and justice. Themes we, especially those most marginalized in our communities, can recognize at once.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... breathes new life into these ideas with an entirely new cultural context, sharp humor, and several intriguing female leads ... Mukhopadhyay’s take on Gothic romance tropes is surprisingly fresh, in part due to its humor ... As a novella, The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is succinct and colorful, barely discernible as a translation when it comes to pure prose. If anything, it cries out for more development. Here I acknowledge my own tastes as a reader, and my desire to see point of view characters balanced evenly. While Somlata’s narrative is well-developed and takes its time, Boshon’s narrative is somewhat limited. I found myself wanting more from her character, her intellectual pursuits, her reflections on how she was raised. Additionally, a longer length could’ve allowed for a more fleshed-out setting, sensory imagery, and other subtleties. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this short, engaging story ... Nothing short of enjoyable.
MixedThe Chicago Review of Books... unfurls into a book of fairy tales, stories woven together by a few recurring characters and a pervasive prose style ... Swarup’s prose is both the novel’s highlight and what holds it back. On the plus side, there is no sensory detail or wisp of an idea that goes unexplored. Fully fleshed out are the movements of water, passage of time, presence of the mountains, and transfer of one life to another ... However, while this prose is spellbinding in small doses, it results in fatigue ... The narrative can feel weighed down by heavy, detailed prose, as well as deep introspection by each and every character. Additionally, the novel has few moments of levity, and can go many pages without dialogue. The dialogues featured are often philosophical musings on the movements of the world. The characters sometimes laugh, but we don’t often feel laughter. Moments of happiness are few and ephemeral, with the characters’ moods constantly changing like the planet itself ... In short, this is a novel I recommend in small, incremental pieces. To read it all at once may feel like a weight on your shoulders.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksWoven through the plain, direct prose of Beijing life and Jia Jia’s innermost thoughts are scenes in a ‘world of water’. Jia Jia finds herself submerged in darkness, the fish-man her only company, and each experience leaves her more puzzled than the last. These journeys, while beautifully written and evocative, are not what resonate with readers of Braised Pork. Rather, it is how this simple image of a mysterious fish-man forges relationships old and new, and how it bolsters Jia Jia’s sense of self ... what An Yu importantly brings to life is not only Jia Jia’s interior but, also, her societal context ... Aspects of the novel, at times, feel disjointed. Things are neither told in the order we expect nor do we get, many times, explanations for the questions we have. Jia Jia can be frustrating as a protagonist too, her life of privilege often making her blind to the cares and concerns of others ... Certain plot threads aren’t as neatly woven as we’d hope, though this may or may not be a detractor depending on your perspective. Characters come and go, as if mirroring Jia Jia’s blase attitudes. But the culmination of the novel, which I cannot spoil for you today, is all too rewarding. And even if we ourselves will never experience the world of water, much of Jia Jia’s journey will ring true. We all battle restrictions in one way or another, some of which the world places on us; but the most difficult ones remain those we place on ourselves.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksGiddings takes the distrust of her community and amplifies it, creating something wholly new and modern ... Giddings maintains a tight hold on us for much of the book. Her plainspoken yet detailed prose draws us close to Lena, allowing us to get to know Lena’s independent spirit and sharp observations ... Prose like this keeps us tightly wound, hanging on Gidding’s every word and Lena’s every move. We feel a paranoia unique to the digital age, censored searches and blocked websites, constantly being heard and watched. And eventually, when things spiral out of control and Giddings lets us go, we’re left reeling. Dizzy. We pick up some pieces but not all of them.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... not a comforting book ... Doshi narrows our distance from Grace with a potent voice, present tense, crisp prose, and a limited cast of characters. Grace grapples with a number of internal conflicts, such as loneliness, aging, family relationships, lust, and womanhood. She jumps from one to the next without pause, and the result is a tightly constructed narrative in which her conflicts become our own. She is not likable, but understandable, almost painfully so. I read this book in a constant state of argument, recognizing a kinship with Grace while repudiating many of her choices ... challenges the maudlin perception of disability in popular media, sparing no detail in Grace’s struggles to care for her sister ... it speaks to the strength of the story itself that this setting does not overwhelm the novel and its characters. Rather, the story of Grace and Lucia could have taken place anywhere. Nowhere have the questions surrounding their lives been fully answered anyway ... speaks to those conflicts relatable to young, modern women of any country.