Yang Huang’s debut novel immerses readers in a time and place with which they may be somewhat familiar: China in 1989, just before and after the massacre of young protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
While it must have been tempting for Yang Huang to write an explicitly political novel about those people and events, she has instead chosen to focus on the love affair of an 18-year-old college student, Gu Bao, and a 22-year-old soldier, Tong, and the ramifications it has for their future. The political unrest serves as a foreboding backdrop for the domestic drama occurring first at Nanjing University and later in the Pingwu region of Sichuan province in mountainous central China.
The story develops in ways one wouldn’t necessarily expect and turns into something of a thriller in the final chapters. Bao, initially timid despite her academic and career ambitions, develops into a determined and spirited young woman who is willing to take on people and institutions she would have feared to challenge only months earlier.
Yang is equally adept at exploring the political situation, both at the political and personal levels, and capturing the texture of hardscrabble Chinese country life. She avoids heavy-handed polemics by depicting the effects of Chinese government policies on a handful of its citizens. As always, we experience the universal themes of oppression, resistance, and triumph through the particular instances of well-drawn characters, here Bao and Orchid. These are flesh and blood people, not mouthpieces for the author’s political harangues. Yang rightly keeps the plot focused on the human side of the nation-changing events taking place in the background of life-changing situations faced by the characters.
With Euphoria, Lily King tells a compelling love story for mature, thinking adults. Set in the 1930’s, it follows the adventures of three anthropologists working in the Territory of New Guinea: American Nell Stone (loosely based on Margaret Mead), her Australian husband, Fenwick Schuyler (called Fen), and Andrew Bankson, an Englishman who has been working alone studying the Kiona tribe on the Sepik River. Nell and Fen have been studying the Mumbanyo tribe with little success and much frustration (as well as great risk to their own well-being) and decide to return to Australia.......more
One of the most encouraging developments in contemporary literature is the increased attention being paid to Afro-Caribbean writers. Writers such as Julia Alvarez (Dominican Republic), Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), Esmeralda Santiago (Puerto Rico), and Tiphanie Yanique (Virgin Islands) are acclaimed for their distinctive contributions to this literature of both a place and a way of being. Amina Gautier now stakes her claim to join this esteemed group of writers.
Gautier, who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent and who understands both cultures intimately, has published more than 75 stories in some of the country’s most prestigious literary journals. She won the 2011 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, leading to the publication of her first collection, At-Risk, in 2012. That volume probed the lives of African-Americans in Brooklyn with empathy and passion.
In these eleven finely wrought stories, the characters face questions of identity raised by family members and society but most often by their own divided hearts and minds. They struggle with remaining authentically Puerto Rican while embracing the idea of being an American. Does that require frequent trips back to the island, having a wide circle of PR friends, speaking Spanish (how much?), attending cultural events and waving the flag literally or figuratively? Who decides? How can one be comfortable in his or her own skin when dealing with matters of nationality, culture, race, ethnicity, and language? And these complexities are not simplified by the fact that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.
... [discussion of several stories]
Now We Will Be Happy is as good a collection of stories as I have read in the past year or two. These are powerful, haunting stories that will have you wondering how the characters are doing weeks after you’ve finished reading it. Anyone interested in how immigrants and their descendants navigate multiple cultures is advised to pick up a copy without delay. And keep the name Amina Gautier on your radar; I suspect we will be reading many more impressive stories and novels from her in the coming years....more
Lisa Lenzo’s second story collection, Strange Love, is an intimate look at protagonist Annie Zito’s open-hearted attempts to find love after divorce. The nine stories taken cumulatively add up to a novel that captures several stages in her single motherhood, ranging from age 31 — two years post-divorce and with an 8-year-old daughter, Marly – to her mid-40s, when Marly is out on her own, facing her own personal struggles.
Annie is an intelligent, earnest, and pleasantly quirky character and narrator. Her efforts to repair her broken heart and find love again run the gamut from awkward and needy to reserved and wary. The characters of the men she becomes involved with are finely drawn depictions of the various forms of the modern male malaise. These are flawed and very human people, and Annie’s interactions with them remind us how finding a truly compatible life partner can seem like a miracle.
Despite Annie’s best intentions, complications always seem to arise. In the face of disappointment and frustration, she tries valiantly to remain flexible, sympathetic, and optimistic. But some relationships are not meant to be, and she eventually accepts this fact with bittersweet resignation. Yet, she returns in the next story, or perhaps the one after that, to try again – as one does.
While each story has an engaging plot line with a problem to be solved or conflict to be resolved, what stands out is the distinctive narrative voice Lenzo has created for Annie. It is so personal, so conversational and frank that reading Strange Love feels as if you are sitting down for a heart-to-heart talk with your best friend. In fact, these nine stories are so realistic and believable, so spot-on, that I often felt that I was reading a memoir....more
This collection of ten short stories announces the arrival of a talented young writer with a distinctive narrative voice. Karin Lin-Greenberg, a professor at Siena College in New York, won the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and it’s easy to see why. She is a gifted storyteller.
Unlike so many story collections today, which tend to the dark and cryptic, Faulty Predictions pulses with a bemused energy. Lin-Greenberg’s stories examine the foibles of a wide range of characters....more