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