You won't know how fascinated you are by the economy of an ancient city until you start reading Doumani's engrossing portrait of eighteenth-century NaYou won't know how fascinated you are by the economy of an ancient city until you start reading Doumani's engrossing portrait of eighteenth-century Nablus. It's written with the thorough, poignant eye of a biographer and the tacit but relentless authority of a historian: far from the "wasteland" it's been made out to be in more biased political histories, Palestine had a diverse, thriving economy. Also interesting was the robust capitalism, entrepreneurship, and speculation banking linked all levels of Palestinian society--long before it engaged with the West.
I am supposed to be reading this as research on soap factories, but found myself sidetracked into reading the whole text. It makes me appreciate how detailed, and perhaps even how accurate, a rendering of one's life can be made by looking only at one's business activities: orders, contracts, inheritances, suppliers, and sales. I speak mostly as a small businesswoman, but generally, as someone living in the West, it's difficult to not speculate at times that we are so deeply imprinted by the market that it distorts identity. The text was a clarifying reminder that humans are transactional creatures, and an economy is an intrinsic part of the human environment.
In her debut novel, award-winning poet Kate Gray breaks the surface of a calm New England boarding school to tell a breathtaking tale about honor, vioIn her debut novel, award-winning poet Kate Gray breaks the surface of a calm New England boarding school to tell a breathtaking tale about honor, violence, and responsibility.
Set in 1983, in the days after Taylor Alta loses her best friend and beloved to a rowing accident, she arrives at St. Timothy's as its girls crew coach, grieving and unprepared for the curiosity of eighteen-year-old Carla. Carla's interest is uncomfortable and hyper-sexualizated, a behavior rooted in her dark history. It’s a past whose consequences also blur the teacher-student boundary with Jack Song, a Korean science teacher who tries not to fall for her.
These narratives connect to the bullying of brilliant oddball Kyle Harney. Taylor, Jack, and Carla have secrets that shame them, and each finds a brief moral balance in their concern for bullied Kyle. What they can't know is the weight Kyle himself carries, burdened by the threat of nuclear annihilation: a threat he understands all too well from his mother, a Japanese woman scarred in the bombing of Nagasaki.
There is a leitmotif of origami pays that pays off well, too, especially as the diverse planes of each characters' suffering begin folding together around the shape of Kyle's ultimate plan for getting back at his tormenters.
For all Jack Song's concern with honor, it is Kyle who feels like a moral axis. Secrets and injustices drive the story, as does the insider's look into the world of competitive rowing. (If the novel feels especially authoritative here, it's because Gray is a former crew coach.) Nevertheless, the attention to language makes the writing one of the novel's most important elements. It sometimes competes with the story itself, but at its best, the characters' distinct voices resonate with their different notes of pain; and in Jack's chapters, the writing riffs between the world of science and the mysterious realm of the heart—with surprising, ingenious effect.
In this lovely cross-genre debut, Yangsze Choo creates a haunting world of her own between paranormal YA, historical, and multicultural fiction. If IIn this lovely cross-genre debut, Yangsze Choo creates a haunting world of her own between paranormal YA, historical, and multicultural fiction. If I hadn't discovered the book through a recommendation, I would have eventually found it on the Indie Next list, the Goodreads author feature, B&N's Discover Great New Writers selection . . . In short, it's everywhere, and there couldn't be a more deserving novel.
Teenager Li Lan is presented with an usual marriage proposal: to wed Lim Tian Ching, a dead man. It's 19th century Malaysia, on the rocky fault-line between superstition and science, and Li Lan is much more interested in his handsome (and alive) cousin, Tian Bai. Both young men are from a wealthy family to whom Li Lan's father owes a debt, and when Lim Tian Ching's ghost starts to invade Li Lan's dreams, accusing Tian Bai of murdering him, her fate seems increasingly bound to his family's. She tries fending the ghost off with spirit remedies, but overdoses, and winds up with one foot in the world of the living and one in the Plains of the Dead. Driven to find her own deceased mother and understand the true circumstances of Lim Tian's Ching's death, Li Lan finds herself allied to a powerful creature of the underworld--and soon, deciding between loyalty to her family's traditions and an uncharted future full of magic and adventure.
The writing really excels. Like all good magical realism, the Plains of the Dead and its otherworldly atmosphere are at once totally inventive and utterly tangible, from its corrupt bureaucracy, to its strange colors and textures, to the faceless paper servants that populate its cities. I found myself invested in the debts, obsessions, and agendas of the spirits that surround Li Lan, and really, this is why I read: to be so convinced that the impossible exists that I'm opening a book in the grocery store line, in bed at 1 a.m., or while riding my bike (on the trainer; safety first).
This was a fast, satisfying story, with an atmosphere that ends up being the most impressive aspect of an already formidable debut. I can't wait to read what follows....more
Not all novels are good at meandering. I suppose this has something to do with your expectations when you begin to read. But with The Plague of Doves,Not all novels are good at meandering. I suppose this has something to do with your expectations when you begin to read. But with The Plague of Doves, which pinwheels around a generation-ago murder on a Ojibwe reservation, its many points of view work as living artifacts to reconstruct not only generations of poverty and racism, but the entire settlement history of Pluto, North Dakota. I've wanted to read Erdrich for a long while, and I finally began with this one because it was a Pulitzer finalist; my only expectation was to take my time and enjoy the writing, and I was delighted to find it entertaining and sometimes outright funny despite its seriousness.
The most important characters are Evelina, an adolescent girl whose father owns one of the most valuable stamp collections in the world; her grandfather Mooshum, the only survivor of a vigilante hanging who is in love with the once-kidnapped, thrice-married editor of the town's historical newsletter; her great-uncle Shamengwa, whose violin has an ethereal history; Judge Coutts, a descendent of the town's first settlers. Erdrich makes the most of relics in this novel--the stamps, violin, a pair of old shoes, Coutt's storied house--but it's the characters themselves who are Pluto's true artifacts.
Much of the book was written and published as standalone short stories in The New Yorker and elsewhere, which partially accounts for its many-jointed narrative. Yet it's not a disjointed one: In such a large story space (i.e., four generations on and around a complicated family tree) the independent tales pace it and give it structure. The murder holds them together, sometimes from the distant background, allowing itself to be solved--by the reader and lone survivor only--piece by piece. Even so, the only real resolution we're offered is the certainty of loss, and that all that's precious will return to dust.
And I'm not sure you can write about Native American history without ending up there....more
As a debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni is an intriguing magical realist-historical crossover novel about New York immigrants at the turn of the tweAs a debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni is an intriguing magical realist-historical crossover novel about New York immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century. The concept is easy to love: A bound Jinni, Ahmad, is freed from his copper flask in a Syrian tinsmith's shop in Lower Manhattan, while in a Jewish neighborhood nearby, a golem, Chava, finds herself master-less and alone. The two meet and form a troubled companionship, unaware that the only person on Earth who knows both their natures has trailed them to New York and intends to use their power for his own gain.
Despite the simplicity of the central story--two immigrants meet in a new place and try to make a go of it--the novel is rich with historical detail and uses many points of view to encompass a layered storyline and large cast of characters. The story is sometimes unwieldy, and the many POVs bog down the climax and denouement, but it's hard to imagine how else the story could handle the sheer volume of world-building it has to do: Besides reconstructing turn-of-the-century Manhattan, it builds the world of the jinn, as well as the Kabbalistic magic that creates and controls the golem. The novel comes out to be a tome, but most of it is dynamically plotted and engrossing.
Part of me hoped for a deeper dive into the novel's potentially beautiful thematic territory--anything from the depth of the respective Jewish and Arabic cultures to the deep sense of displacement, beyond simple homesickness, that comes from emigration. These are present in the novel, but don't resonate as much as they might have. The Golem and the Jinni is a relatively straightforward story that covers a lot of ground, showing us a slice of Arab and Jewish history before the intense politicization of 1948 and beyond, when both communities were still fleeing Old World masters to face the same hardships and hopes in the New World.
I'd give it four stars except for the few places where the plot felt labored; for the most part, though, I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to more from Helene Wecker. For another inventive (but considerably more baroque) novel about turn-of-the-century New York, check out Mark Halprin's Winter's Tale....more