Composed in compressed, laser-sharp interrogations of immigration and prejudice, colonialism and inheritance, Names for Light reads like poetry ... evokes recent works of Claudia Rankine ... With a keen ability to dissect English, Myint looks at names ... After taking readers through a fascinating ancestral chain, Myint provides a compressed autobiography in the book's final section (Section V). There, she writes her personal history in an ironic third person. As opposed to earlier, she brings readers to her writerly present in long paragraphs that often cover multiple pages ... For me, Names for Light was more of an embodied experience than a read, like swimming in a pool of exquisite reflections on family and rootedness and deracination and sorrow and love. Early on, Myint writes, 'Nothing has ever happened to me.' This 'is the reason I am the storyteller and not the story.' I look forward to immersing myself further in her gorgeous storytelling.
... uniquely structured ... Braiding these opposing timelines and narrative perspectives creates an innovative structure that effectively contrasts the author’s deep enmeshment with her family history with her distance from reality. On a line-by-line level, the book is spectacularly lyrical, and each word feels perfectly chosen. Some readers may struggle with the chronology and unnamed characters, but the text is undeniably powerful ... An imaginative and compelling memoir about what we inherit and what we pass on.
... makes ample use of blank space, between paragraphs, strings of thought, scenes and events. When not used, what’s there is jumbled and scattered ... this is what [Myint] achieves in her writing — she keeps herself to herself. In doing so, she makes the question of where she comes from illumined and voluminous ... Myint’s narrative shape is barely there. We get blips and cracks, 'a trace, a strip, or a corner of the memories,' a 'memory of a memory.' This family history is often recounted through others, like this: 'My father said my grandmother said' and 'My other grandmother, my mother’s mother' and 'My mother said my great-grandmother and great-grandfather.' This makes the prose clunky and cluttered, and the people difficult to feel and see and hear and remember ... The language is so concerned with being and looking pretty that what the story is about — political upheaval, death, heartbreak, violence, discrimination, the immigrant experience — is barely noticeable. The parents, particularly, don’t feel like real people, since we never get them in their adult mess ... This is a writer who does not know and is comfortable in not knowing. The gaze flinches ... It is one thing to be able to put feelings on paper and another to make a reader feel what we write. The narrow line between being a note taker and being a writer is worth discerning ... These are wonderful observations of language, but the writing does not move them beyond being duly noted. It certainly sounds like poetry, but it is not poetry ... The material Myint has before her is compelling, but they are memories and stories that are not hers. This is the problem for the children of immigrants and refugees when we set out to write memoirs. However special we think our lives are or however much we accomplish, our stories always pale in comparison — even more so when we lean on others’ to write our own. We, whom 'nothing has ever happened to,' are never as compelling as our parents.