RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe author is well versed in juggling competing feelings of sameness and difference. In her first memories of life in the Philippines, Talusan tactfully examines her experience growing up with white skin and blond hair in a place where such an appearance made her stand out as a Western ideal ... Unfortunately, these are the scant moments that address Talusan’s adjustment to life in Los Angeles, as the book quickly skips over those three years. However, the author gives readers a sense of how the above complications would inform a new relationship to whiteness and sexuality at Harvard ... As it plunges into the complexities of how race is woven into sexuality and gender, Fairest attests to an inexhaustible performativity of identity. Talusan masterfully traces the narrative of her life, from the departure from and sporadic return to her homeland to the myth of an American Dream that only requires dreamers to sustain its false reality, to the heartbreaks that let her revel in her idiosyncratic uniqueness, to the transgressive and gender-bending art practices she developed at Harvard and beyond ... Ultimately, Fairest rejects the prescriptive qualities of the gender/sex system and functions as a rallying cry for whiteness to be rethought of as a blank canvas, as a snowflake.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksLater takes us on a heart-wrenching journey through Lisicky’s transition from living with his mother to his exploration and discovery of gay communities, and finally to his encounter with death and illness as a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. But, more specifically, Later asks us to consider the power of retrospection, a timely consideration given the global confinement regulation in the face of the current COVID-19 outbreak ... urgency can often be found lingering in the work of many gay writers publishing during or reflecting on the ’80s and ’90s. And Lisicky masterfully situates himself within this history ... Lisicky beautifully renders the readers complicit in this act of survivance. Readers see through the eyes of a visitor who becomes a local through his constant exposure to death and illness but also through the opening of his heart to the possibility of love and community in epidemiological time ... the memoir, the narrative ultimately arrives at a present that feels full, manageable, and free ... Lisicky invites his reader into this delicate, brutal, and moving psychoanalytical terrain, and for those of us cut off by birth and history from the peak of the AIDS crisis, this intergenerational invitation is irresistible. He seduces us, breaks our heart, and helps us put it back together—but not once does he allow the space for a post-memorial nostalgia.
Sabrina Orah Mark
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Poet Sabrina Orah Mark’s first book of fiction, Wild Milk, isn’t just a collection of surrealist stories with a contemporary twist. It’s an accumulation of highly astute observations on how people interact not only with relatives, officials, and pets, but also with the inadequacy of the language culture provides to lead lives as social beings ... Mark’s language is filled with allusions to the physical world, but the reader may struggle to follow her train of thought, especially when the words on the page meander outside the author’s control. The text shines when it hangs on to something tangible but gets lost in the fog of connotation when a linguistically amorphous story line dominates.\
RaveHyper AllergicCalypso immediately goes for the literary gold, jumping into the Sedaris family’s complicated dynamics, and the author’s difficulty dealing with his sister Tiffany’s suicide. Splitting his time between Sussex, England — where he lives with his partner Hugh — and Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Sedaris finally organizes the family gathering everyone wants. Except, this time, everyone is older, their father nearing a century, their mother has passed away from cancer, and their sister, Tiffany, is no longer part of the gang ... As a first-time Sedaris reader, I understand why I was drawn to this particular book and why his work is so important — why, as a gay man, it’s vital for me to read works by members of the community who choose not to let their sexuality define them and who, instead of assenting to mainstream expectations, choose to understand themselves merely as human and finite.
PositiveBOMBThe text is spurred on by Zeke’s objects of study—photographs, particularly family snapshots, which he deconstructs, theorizes upon, and puts back together ... Words mislead, images too, always mediated by the selective vision of the writer or photographer and the reader or beholder. Indeed, Tillman constantly asks her readers to shift perspective, hopping from photo to photo, story to story, to lives within and outside of the frame ... As a preamble to Zeke’s study, there are photos of men flexing their muscles, as toddlers in high chairs, powdered with makeup on their faces, beside their mothers, in uniform, and on vacation. Each iterates a different formulation of masculinity and makes us question how power and dominance might be staged performances, not unlike Tillman’s own conjuring of Zeke’s mind.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe nine stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s debut collection All the Names They Used for God aren’t your typical narratives. Each one provides a haiku-esque glimpse into the infinite mind of an individual while revealing how the seeming trivialities of life can reverberate with meaning ... Her literary world is magnetic. The author has created perfect, complete micro-universes that lure the reader in to the dark depths of literature like siren song. And yet All the Names They Used for God shines in a way that leads characters and readers alike back out of the caves and frozen waters and into the warm, mysterious light.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
RaveBOMB Magazine\"In Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel, Call Me Zebra(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a 22-year-old Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini, who renames herself Zebra, sets out to visit the sites her family passed through while escaping Iran ... Oloomi effectively creates a fictional universe that thrives in its heavy-handedness: readers might get fed up with Zebra’s over-expressive hyper-intellectualism since much of her narration is filled with elegiac diction and hyperbolic discourse. Yet to stop there is to miss the realization that the beauty of Zebra’s character lies in the very fact that literature is hyperbolic.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksOscillating between murder mystery, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age novel, The Job of the Wasp is a careful, yet playful, study of the power plays inevitable among children, and between children and adults, by way of an exploration of group dynamics and science fiction … Winnette effectively paints the picture of the preteen experience: an endless stream of attempts to fit into a group that innately wants to reject you and arbitrarily demean you. Interestingly, Winnette combines this trope with some critical theory … Winnette successfully blends reality with fiction and, in so doing, forces the readers to question not just the narrator’s authenticity but also the plot’s truth.
Ismail Kadare, Trans. by John Hodgson
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Kadare takes us through Rudian’s entire psychic sphere, successfully designing a character that immediately draws readers in and that, unfortunately, because he is himself a storyteller, may know a bit too much about character creation to dutifully play one for Kadare ... Readers are asked to consider what it means for a character to be frustrated with the conversations he is forced to have with other characters in the book. Such frustration implies a deeper, more unusual dissatisfaction with the author ... Beautifully, the text addresses the cruelties of dictatorship through Linda’s exile from the main city, showing the rise and fall of a character whose potential may have outshone that of the other characters in the book. Nonetheless, despite the political oppression festering within the text and a hasty resolution to the enigma that takes up the totality of the novel, Kadare creates a compelling narrative environment that is fully self-reflexive and autocritical.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThis dispersal of identities is what gives the book its strength. In thematizing the readerly experience as a city anyone can enter, García creates a space for the reader to inject her own history into the book’s various narratives, and she makes this possible by offering stories from World War II to the contemporary era, successfully depicting the condition of living in the city of Berlin as time passes by ... The self-awareness that García gives her characters allows the text as a whole to function somehow autonomously. Without an identified narrator, the text appears expansively and virtuously unauthored — the product of a cast of characters that shape and define the social topography of the city, recoded as narrative ... Overall, Here in Berlin is an impeccable linguistic exercise in narratology and a brilliant exploration of the various identities we adhere to in metropolitan environments. García successfully rehumanizes a German postwar trauma of a populace that for so long coped with the making anonymous of people through genocide, the deadening speed of its capitalist structures, and the oppressive world of East Berlin.