March is just around the corner and with it comes some exciting things like warmer weather (even though it’s been pretty warm here in the south all wi...moreMarch is just around the corner and with it comes some exciting things like warmer weather (even though it’s been pretty warm here in the south all winter this year), longer days and less Seasonal Affective Disorder from never seeing the sunshine, my birthday and the Ides of March (same day), the local Battle of the Books competition, and perhaps best of all, the release of Aimee Phan’s debut novel The Reeducation of Cherry Truong (Phan previously released a book of short stories, We Should Never Meet). St. Martin’s Press sent me an Advanced Reader Copy of this book last month and I devoured it. This is a beautiful story of family, tragedy, culture and Vietnamese history that sweeps four countries, two continents and three generations. Prior to reading this book, I have to admit that I had never heard of the reeducation camps that occurred in Vietnam after the war and a Google search revealed some pretty awful truths about North Vietnam’s history. The story is told in flashbacks from the perspectives of members from two Vietnamese families, the Vos and the Truongs. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 the two families split apart; the Vos head to American and the Truongs leave for France both via a refuge camp in Malaysia. Sahn Truong leaves behind a disappointed family to take his wife, Tuyet Vo, and her family to America while the rest of the Truongs make their way to France. Both family units struggle to maintain their culture and identity while integrating into their new societies and cultures. Heartbreak and corruption is experienced by all characters in the new worlds. Cherry, the only member of the families who was actually born in the United States, is desperate to reconnect to her roots and with her brother who has moved back to Vietnam following a tragedy. Taking place from 1979 to 2002, with a dozen characters and three generations who all experience their own form of reeducation the book is a commentary on both the history of a country as well as what it means to be a family. The characters are all well developed and each has qualities that make them simultaneously loveable and loathed, in other words, human. The book reads like a series of short stories that come together to paint a wonderful portrait of the immigrant experience. (less)
In 1841 the delightful Edgar Allan Poe gave birth to the detective genre with his engrossing story The Murder in the Rue Morgue. Since this story we h...moreIn 1841 the delightful Edgar Allan Poe gave birth to the detective genre with his engrossing story The Murder in the Rue Morgue. Since this story we have had many novels and stories written that fit neatly into the puzzle/detective/thriller/mystery genre. The Devotion of Suspect X by Kiego Higashino fit into all of those categories with a hint of romance thrown in as well. I have to admit that I am a fan of the these genres. When I was younger I would pour over the “mystery specials” in my favorite series: Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, etc. I read and carefully re-read parts of The Boxcar Children so that I might be able to work alongside my new friends Henry, Violet, Benny and Jessie and solve each mystery. I love to watch the Sherlock Holmes movies and series on PBS. The PBS Mysteries always stump me, but I get a thrill out of them none the less. Being involved in a mystery rather it be in movie, televised or in novel form is always a great source of entertainment for me. I try to solve the puzzle as best as I can by careful observations and readings. I believe that a good mystery or detective story is a game of a puzzle between the author and the reader. That being said, this book was not a fun puzzle at all.
The Devotion of Suspect X is a sensational Japanese thriller that was so popular that it was developed into a film in the country. The story starts out with a very devoted-to-her-daughter single mother who works in a deli shop and lives in an apartment building in Tokyo and basically keeps to herself and lives her life. One day her abusive, greedy and blackmailing ex-husband tracks her down and shows up uninvited to her apartment. Soon this man is dead which leads to an unlikely knight in shining armor from next door stepping in to help with the cover up. Two police detectives show up for the investigation of the murder and resort to relying on a Sherlock Holmes type for help. This helper is none other than genius Physicist Yukawa who, wouldn’t ya know it, just happens to be friends with Ishigami, our unlikely hero. This novel played out like a very messy game of chess between the two geniuses. Both Yukawa and Ishigami are extremely observant and intelligent and constantly one upping each other until the final unbelievable plot twist ending. Once we got to this unsatisfying ending there were several strings that were left untied. A suicide attempt was mentioned, but never dealt with again. A romance began and brought about a surprise proposal, but, again, was never mentioned a second time. To me, detective novels need to end with all questions answered. I don’t want the Soprano’s ending, I want to know. I wasn’t 100% devoted to this novel, but I was devoted to finishing it and discovering what had really happened, which, disappointingly, I never got to do with some aspects of the novel.
Somewhere it is written (I know because somewhere I’ve read) that the reader, upon careful reading should be allowed the chance to solve the mystery. At the end of The Devotion of Suspect X we are given several, very far-fetched facts that we would have no way of ever figuring out from the text alone. This particular puzzle that I played with Higashino was one that left me feeling cheated; he had an unfair advantage over his reader by not disclosing items earlier. As I read I feel that I make friends with the characters in the books. Solving mysteries and living in a boxcar are vivid memories from my childhood. I felt close to the main character of this book. I felt simultaneous sympathy and admiration for this man. But he had been cheating me the entire time as well. He withheld facts from me and he lied to me and he hid things from me. I believe that Poe would be disappointed in the sloppy way this novel ended and would wonder what has become of the genre that he gifted us with so long ago. (less)