Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Make Me a World 2019)
Reviewed by Robert Drinkwater
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is set in a utopian city, Lucille, where evil people, also called “monsters” no longer exist, but have been replaced by “angels”, good people who try to establish justice and peace. Pet explores a world which may look peaceful and perfect on the outside, but is in fact full of monsters. In many ways, the book mirrors the systemic racism and issues of justice that characterize the current political situation in the United States.
Shahr-e-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (Tupelo Press 2020)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
Winner of the Kundiman Prize Honoring Exceptional Work by Asian American Poets, this collection is a multilayered imaginary where the author converses with Urdu poetic tradition and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Ghalib, and Ibn-e-Insha, among others. Talukder is also a translator, which, as she explains in the preface, allows for transcreation “Based on the way the particular verses converse with the themes of my poems.” The interplay is not only between two languages, but also between two –or more– different ways of perception and experience.
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, trans. by Jen Calleja (Coach House Books 2020)
Reviewed by Aramis Grant
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, translated by Jen Calleja from German, follows middle-aged German professor Gilbert Silvester. Silvester is a researcher on beard styles in film, who, after dreaming of his wife cheating on him, reacts in his waking life as if his dream reveals an unquestionable truth. He allows his anger and disappointment to carry him overseas to Japan, where he meets a suicidal young man named Yosa Tamagotchi.
Dancing in Santa Fe and Other Poems by Beate Sigriddaughter (Cervena Barva Press 2019)
Review by Carole Mertz
In Dancing in Santa Fe, Beate Sigriddaughter delivers a fine collection of fourteen poems, all written in free verse. An American poet of German heritage, she has won multiple poetry prizes, including the Cultural Weekly—Jack Grapes Prize in 2014, and multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her gracious promotion of women’s poetry (at her blog Writing in a Woman’s Voice) is also commendable.
“Just Dandy: ” A Review of I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s by Peter McGough (Pantheon 2019)
Review by Michael Quinn
Peter McGough and his partner (in business and romance) David McDermott rose to prominence in the 1980s New York art scene. Their paintings have a vintage feel with a contemporary twist (a still life of flowers has the blossoms arranged into the shape of a dollar sign). Their later photography has a much more mysterious feeling, truer to whatever periods they were aping. Mentored by Julian Schnabel, their work appeared in three Whitney Biennials and graced a 1986 cover of Artforum.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (William Morrow & Company 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
In her latest novel, Searching for Sylvie Lee, author Jean Kwok draws on deep personal experience to find inspiration for her work. Searching for Sylvie Lee, begins with a heartfelt dedication to Kwok’s brother, who tragically passed away in an airplane crash after going missing for one week. Kwok channels her family’s pain, grief, and experience into the premise of her novel. After traveling from New York to the Netherlands to care for her dying grandmother, Sylvie Lee goes missing. Her younger sister, Amy, retraces Sylvie’s footsteps in hopes of finding the truth of what happened to her, discovering deep family secrets along the way. The novel examines significant themes like prejudice, immigration, secrets, and societal expectations, but the idea of family and familial love takes center stage.
Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu (Saga Press 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
Slow burn stories rarely find their place in modern storytelling. It is even rarer when a slow burn has so much thought and detail in its world-building that it warrants dissection of the most minute details. The novel Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang achieves this feat by taking its time revealing Jingfang’s extensive research of physics, economics, and social systems.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books 2020)
Review by Lane Berger
C Pam Zhang’s debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, follows a Chinese-American family without a name. Ma, Ba (father), Lucy, and Sam are immigrant, migrant, and the children thereof.
Divided into four a-chronological sections, the novel spans America’s Gold Rush Era. In Part One, Ba is dead, “And long gone, Ma.” But for Ba’s body and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam are destitute when they set out to bury their father properly. While Lucy wills every step to take her away from her past, toward a white lace dress and civilization, Sam carries a disparate inheritance and disparate dreams. Begun as a journey to stay a spirit, the siblings take up the mantle of their parents’ search for self and home.
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E.J. Koh (Tin House Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Asian-American literature is finally having its moment in the United States. In the past four years, books such as Min Jin Lee’s, Pachinko and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We Are Briefly Beautiful have made their way to the New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year lists and have been nominated for a variety of prestigious awards.
As readers, Americans are hungry for new voices in Asian-American literature. While Amy Tan and Haruki Murakami have been the exception rather than the trend, there has been very little representation of voices in contemporary literature. However, authors like E.J. Koh are finally changing things.