RaveNPRA mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer\'s The Half Known Life upends the conventional travel genre by offering a paradoxical investigation of paradise ... Deeply reflective ... Iyer poetically depicts the otherworldly beauty of these places while trenchantly examining the paradox of utopia ... Iyer is less interested in binary thinking than in embracing contradictions ... While The Half Known [Life] is not without its romantic seductions — Iyer\'s indelible prose often conjures the hypnotic, teeming vista of a David Lean epic or the evocative interior of a Mira Nair picture — his descriptions are suffused with an awareness of loss ... Offers us a revelatory refresher on American literature.
RaveNPR... saddled by grief. But it is also propelled by hope, less a grim prognosis of the future than an impassioned call for a full reckoning with the past ... Thanks to its seamless structure, Our Missing Hearts resembles a box of myths transmuting into fresh, symbiotic insights when converged ... Ng\'s clever juxtaposition of the Orpheus myth (a beloved\'s eternal absence transformed into art) with the Japanese cat myth (an artist\'s triumph over evil) sums up the tragedy/hope duality at the heart of Our Missing Hearts. As well, her mesmerizing storytelling \'keeps to the small,\' by conjuring finely drawn Asian Americans characters and dismantling their stereotypical portrayal as conformists or lacking in emotional complexity ... Celeste Ng\'s latest work depicts life-like Asian Americans who hope to make peace with the past and change the future by taking small, self-assured steps.
RaveNPRIn Phong Nguyen\'s indelible rendering, Bronze Drum resurrects an early segment of Vietnamese history that both evokes and subverts the founding myth of the United States...The revolutionaries in this story are not white men expounding on the principles of individual liberty while ignoring the harsh realities of slavery, but clear-eyed Southeast Asian women who understand the cost of war and the fraught legacy of peace...Bronze Drum\'s epigraph reiterates the tenet \'Nothing Ever Dies\' articulated in both Toni Morrison\'s fiction and Viet Thanh Nguyen\'s collection of essays on war and remembrance...This concept explores how conflict becomes imprinted upon a culture\'s collective memory, and transformed in each retelling, until a reconciliation with the past is reached...Any effort to censor this memory would paradoxically ensure its longevity...As Sethe tells Denver in Morrison\'s Beloved, \'If a house burns down, it\'s gone, but the place — the picture of it — stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world.\'
RaveAsymptoteThuận deftly balances her complex content with a wryly confiding style. Making its English debut via Nguyễn An Lý’s incantatory translation, Chinatown’s generic title is deceptive, its compact length trapping layers of tensions to illustrate how political struggles in the public realm mirror emotional struggles in personal relationships. Subversive yet casually framed like a run-on conversation between friends, Thuận’s novel explores various iterations of Chinatown to convey exile, alienation, oppression, and artistic freedom ... This novel-within-a-novel structure embodies the ambiguous push-pull between oppression and freedom: Thuận’s protagonist roams ceaselessly yet neurotically in her imagination even as the main action is confined in both time and space.
PositiveNPRUltimately, Hershovitz\'s approach, in betting on his children\'s endless capacity to ask trenchant questions, has a bittersweet aspect — it\'s at once like faith and doubt. Rex and Hank\'s childhood years are finite. The portal to their seemingly infinite aptitude for wonder may close once they reach adulthood. Nevertheless, Hershovitz reminds parents to embrace our children\'s \'strangeness\' as long as we can, and maybe in the process find our way back to the questing child-philosopher within us.
RaveNPRTime, normally associated with death and erasure, embodied in the image of the Greek god Kronos devouring his young, is transformed by the poet into a mother with endlessly regenerative power ... illustrates the poet\'s efforts to reconcile inexorable fate with aesthetic transformation, eternal absence with continuous presence ... Aesthetically complex yet emotionally accessible, Time is a Mother at once innovates and affirms the existing poetic tradition, bringing to mind John Ashbery\'s Paradoxes and Oxymorons. Vuong\'s portrait of Hồng is both intimate and iconic ... By addressing Hồng in \'Dear Rose,\' Vuong also reaches out to us who, in reading his work, become his mother, the poem, and his community through space and time.
PositiveNPRWang\'s novel, in a way, is a sly correction of Hemingway\'s tragic individualism. Even at the novel\'s outset, Joan has already achieved her American Dream, and her parents have regained their Chinese Eden ... Joan is Okay takes the reader through the inevitable rise of COVID in New York City, deftly showing the parallel between Joan\'s present calling and her parents\' past labors ... By exploring the spectrum of commitment—from doubts about one\'s career and cultural identity...to a deep passion for one\'s calling that seems tantamount to faith in Joan is Okay—Weike Wang has shown us myriad ways to build a sense of home, myriad ways to feel okay in our skin.
Gunnhild Øyehaug, Tr. Kari Dickson
PositiveNPR... by synthesizing the sci-fi trope of parallel universes with stories from Genesis, as well as Greek mythology (i.e., Orpheus and Eurydice, Demeter and Persephone), Present Tense Machine—seamlessly translated by Kari Dickson—assumes varied yet unifying forms: as a gestational fable with a beginning, and middle, but no end; a metaphysical poem on infinite loop; a refutation and affirmation of mortality; and a lyrical essay on the gaps between an original text and its translation. Ultimately, as an ingeniously constructed \'machine,\' Øyehaug\'s novel evokes a cosmos that can simultaneously expand and compress.
RaveNPRWhile Keegan dedicates Small Things Like These to \'the women and children who suffered time in Ireland\'s Magdalen laundries\'...her compact, crystallized narrative does not train its gaze on these victims or the nuns who imprisoned them within high walls \'topped with broken glass,\' but instead on Bill Furlong and his harrowing quest for meaning ...
Small Things Like These can be read as a feminist revision of Charles Dickens\' A Christmas Carol—to which the novel explicitly alludes. While Dickens uses his story to challenge the unequal distribution of wealth in Victorian society, his message nevertheless reinforces patriarchal values by celebrating the male-centric and materialist aspects of Christmas, rather than its spiritual elements ... Overall, Keegan\'s exquisitely ambiguous finale shows that narratives about at-risk young women are not confined by fiction or time.
Sang Young Park tr. Anton Hur
PositiveNPRTranslated by Anton Hur with startling immediacy, Park\'s English language debut...captures the ambiguous landscape inhabited by South Korean gays, of being both visible and unacknowledged ... Park\'s novel can be read as an anthropological approach to Seoulite queer lives in the 21st century ... By invoking these specific locations, Park—who calls himself a \'citizen-writer\'—has poetically mapped out a normalizing zone for his gay protagonists so they can overcome the dichotomy between safety and exposure, public and private.
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
RaveNPRGendry-Kim adopts a non-linear approach that\'s both radical and naturalistic, to illustrate what unfolds in her protagonist\'s daily life when her other life is put on hold. While fully acknowledging the plight of biological family members separated along the North-South border during the Korean War, The Waiting also celebrates the beauty of found-family bonds forged to mitigate the destructive forces of history ... By modulating the narrative sequence, the author also affirms the resilient — if sometimes unacknowledged — bond between Gwija and her independent younger daughter ... The Waiting vividly captures Gwija\'s chronic deprivation ... Both author and translator understand the power of images in the comics medium, how serious topics — the way both war and patriarchy result in endless exile of the vulnerable — can be made accessible to a wide audience and serve as effective instruments for change. And while words presumably take a secondary role to images in a graphic novel, their \'silence,\' crafted by a perceptive translator in step with the artist\'s powerful visual representation, cuts deep.
RaveNPRA groundbreaking collage of epistles, mementos, poetry, and literary criticism ... In defining language as the nucleus for experience, Chang\'s innovative montage brings to mind Jorge Luis Borges\' \'The Aleph\'...where time and memory are converged as omniscient reality. While structurally complex, Dear Memory articulates grief\'s basic anxieties ... Chang\'s poignant anecdotes on motherhood, from her own experience and others\', can be read as tangible ways to illustrate memory\'s paradoxes ... Chang\'s lyrical experiment memorably evokes an individual family\'s time capsule and an artist\'s timeless yearning to shape carbon dust into incandescent gem.
A.L. Snijders, tr. Lydia Davis
RaveAsymptote... a shapeshifting amalgam of fable, zen koan, commentary, lyrical essay, and autobiography. As an immersive foray into the unknown, the instability of Snijders’s narrative form produces a trompe-l’oeil effect \'indistinguishable from the truth,\' giving the reader a sensation of being at once disoriented and illuminated ... The Dutch author vividly demonstrates how recreational play and a passion for one’s calling are one and the same...This sense of work as both duty and pleasure represents Snijders’s netsuke approach to literature—intricate art designed as miniature toggles for the necessities of our daily existence.
Hwang Sok-Yong, trans. by Sora Kim-Russell and Anton Hur
RaveNPRHwang Sok-yong\'s expansive memoir—incisively translated by Anton Hur and Sora Kim-Russell—vividly captures a South Korean writer\'s literal and metaphorical imprisonment ... Cinematic, riveting, elegiac, The Prisoner captures the dialectical tensions in Hwang\'s life and career in a manner reminiscent of Jacob wrestling with an angel, or the haunting films of South Korean director Lee Chang-dong ... Hwang\'s prison account—divided into six segments—constitutes the lyrical refrain that disrupts the chronology of his life prior to incarceration. This innovative arrangement eloquently replicates the ruptures and rhythms in Hwang\'s life and art. While The Prisoner acknowledges free expression\'s burdens and the North-South struggle\'s Sisyphean nature, Hwang\'s epilogue stands firm with his urgent yet timeless warning[.]
Manuele Fior, trans. by Jamie Richards
RaveAsymptoteAmbitiously realized by Manuele Fior and eloquently translated by Jamie Richards, Celestia—Venice’s oneiric double—is a visual poem and modernist dance in graphic novel form, encompassing diaphanous terrains and gothic undertow, exuberantly tumescent with allusions to literature, art, and architecture ... Richards’ expressive portrayal of Pierrot complements Fior’s suggestive approach. Their linguistic collaboration resembles a graceful pas-de-deux between layers of idea and perception. Fior’s painterly panels, like his organic narrative, often do not follow the sequential action-to-action layout of traditional comics, but employ disorienting shifts in perspective, scene, and mood—bringing to mind Brodsky’s metaphor of Venice as a trammeling labyrinth.
Anthony Veasna So
RaveNPRTrained as a comic, So creates deadpan and intricate vignettes about the Cambodian American community that the uninitiated may find startling ... In portraying lives subject to multiple perils and displacements, So treats the legacy of genocide with astute nuance — as if such trauma is both integral and incidental to his characters ... The idea of renewal, through something as prosaic as doing chores, or as cosmic as reincarnation, or via bold realignment of iconic works in American literature, represents the vital core of So\'s fiction.
RaveNPR... unsentimental yet deeply moving ... Ostensibly an immigrant success story, Tran\'s narrative power lies in its nuanced celebration of filial devotion that withstands the enormous cost of the American dream ... Tran\'s memoir is unique among Vietnamese American narratives in the sense that her identity crisis was not about liberating herself from her parents\' past but her unwillingness to remove herself from their suffering ... In the end, Tran\'s empathy and her parents\' appreciation of her filial love cemented the emotional bricks that steady their seemingly tenuous hold on this unaccustomed earth.
RaveNPR... haunting ... poignantly explores all the ways in which Vietnamese refugees are affected by country and water — in sum, by dislocation ... gracefully manages to be both panoramic and specific, allegorical and literal ... Nguyen\'s narrative language, as consistent with his fluid universe, is an organic blend of English and Vietnamese...slipping into dialogues, recorded messages, and descriptions. This hybrid language highlights his characters\' complex essence, showing that their experiences are not subjugated by one dominant mode of expression but formed by layered syntaxes. It also vividly illustrates the borderless, convergent quality of country/water.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveNPRWith smoke-and-mirrors panache, The Committed continues the travails of our Eurasian Ulysses ... From a satirical James Bond-esque spy story in The Sympathizer, the author shifts to James Baldwin\'s intersectional politics in The Committed to address greed, prejudice, and violence ... The Committed\'s revolutionary core is its plasticity — a novel of ideas that continuously shapeshifts to question its raison d\'être ... Nguyen\'s decision not to put diacritical marks on his Vietnamese characters\' names enhances the novel\'s paradoxes and allows it to gain multivalent, poetic meanings across languages.
Kikuko Tsumura, trans. by Polly Barton
PositiveNPRTranslated from the Japanese by Polly Barton, the novel, originally written in 2016, uncannily captures our job landscape during COVID — when we have jobs that sit \'on the borderline between a job and not\' ... We may also read this novel as Tsumura\'s 21st-century response to Herman Melville\'s \'Bartleby, the Scrivener.\' While Bartleby resists by staying put, the author\'s protagonist strives to redefine her professional preferences by submitting to a picaresque array of alternative vocations ... Tsumura eloquently contrasts her depictions of male prejudice with examples of female solidarity ... Polly Barton\'s British translation, having words such as a total tip (a complete mess); was not half convenient (was very convenient); moreish (tasty); skiver (a job shirker); and put paid to (finish) serves as a weirdly appropriate lens to approach the novel. This double distancing effect — British flavor imposed on a Japanese oeuvre — encourages us to imagine the voice of Tsumura\'s narrator/avatar as both cheeky and self-deprecating, the perfect balance to wage a stealth feminist revolution.
PositiveNPRMost poignantly, Must I Go can be read as an extension of Li\'s 2019 semi-autobiographical novel, Where Reasons End ... Lilia\'s extended argument with her deceased daughter also exposes the inadequacy of language to express difficult, \'unspeakable\' subjects. She resists grief\'s metaphor of a broken heart since it fails to capture the immensity of a mother\'s loss ... In juxtaposing Lucy\'s suicide with Roland\'s self-centered narrative, Li also raises a provocative question: Is suicide just an underdeveloped story that requires editorial intervention? ... While Li may not be religious, her contemplative novel brings to mind John Donne\'s Meditation XVII — Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, or what\'s commonly known as For Whom the Bell Tolls. Like Donne\'s devotional on the intimacy of death that connects all human beings, Must I Go affirms the complex bonds of divergent characters who learn to navigate through loss. The novel also serves as a literary equivalent of Schrödinger\'s cat: In recapturing lost time through Roland\'s diary, Lilia can exist in an infinite loop between ending and beginning.
Quế Mai Phan Nguyễn
RaveNPRNguyễn Phan Quế Mai has created a luminous, complex family narrative ... Quế Mai [has] an astute and graceful ability to sustain contradictory truths about war, displacement, aesthetic representations, and human nature ... Most importantly, the novel helps all of us see \'the enemy\' not as abstract or demonic, but corporeal, even familial ... In depicting the dire consequences of war and Marxist ideology, which forced citizens and family members to become either traitors or patriots, The Mountains Sing affirms the individual\'s right to think, read, and act according to a code of intuitive civility, born out of Vietnam\'s fertile and compassionate cultural heritage.