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.
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.
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (HarperCollins 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
A book’s purpose is to inform, whether it paints a view of a fantastical world or provides a reflection of everyday life. Sometimes, these purposes indulge our curiosities naturally and slowly. Other times, the author forces our eyes wide open to take in harsh truths we weren’t prepared to face. Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, displays the traditions, culture, and societal expectations of Arab families, but also shows the painful reality for its woman.
Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson (Tor Teen, 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of 17-year-old ballerina Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family. Sparrow has been chosen to dance the role of the Swan Queen, with her best friend and dance partner Lucas as the prince. But dancing isn’t Sparrow’s only talent. Her real talent is keeping secrets—a practice distilled into her by her long dead mother.
Endlings by Joanna Lilley (Turnstone Press 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“How carefully we preserve the dead and eat the living” (109)
How to write an elegy for animals? Not the ones closest to us, our dogs and cats, chickens, rabbits, the domesticated fauna we use to name and sustain ourselves. How do we write an elegy for the animals we did not save in time; the “endlings,” the final link between past and present? How do we write an elegy for the victims of a murder we won’t even admit we’ve committed?
The White Card by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2019)
Reviewed by Olivia Cyr
There is perhaps no better political climate in which to revel in a book that explores race in America than the one the country is in now. As both a self-proclaimed feminist with a background in black women’s studies, and a white woman, I find that I am both well-versed on current conversations about race and women and where those intertwine, and also, admittedly, still terribly conditioned to accept and lean on my own white privilege. While I do follow much of the debate on abortion, women’s rights in the workplace, intersectionality, police brutality, immigration, and the unfair treatment of black people, there is still so much I do not know. I wonder often if my own whiteness does not allow for me to see the whole picture. I think many white folks in this country try, as Claudia Rankine’s characters Virginia and Charles appear to do, and think we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. But Rankine makes it apparent that we aren’t, simply because we are white.
Obviously, it’s a weird time to be alive. I won’t say much more about COVID-19 here, other than the fact that I am grateful to find solace in books while home-bound.
In that vein, I asked our editors and frequent contributors to send over a book or two that has made their quarantine more manageable. Some of these are old favorites, some are new finds, but all are solid picks to stave off your quarantine-fueled boredom, and maybe even provide a little hope or inspiration in moments of chaos and confusion.
You can find LaVonne’s review of No Visible Bruises here.
Rachel Louise Snyder is a journalist and professor of creative writing at American University. The author of No Visible Bruises—winner of the prestigious 2018 Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation—and Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The
New York Times Magazine, Slate, Salon, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Republic. Originally from Chicago, she currently lives in Washington, DC.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder
Reviewed by LaVonne Roberts
Sometimes a book comes along and, long after it is absorbed, nothing is the same. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises demands that we have a conversation about an insidious national epidemic—domestic violence. Ms. Snyder reports, domestic violence, or “intimate partner terrorism,” as she prefers, is “among the most difficult of subjects to report on” because it’s “vast and unwieldy, but it’s also utterly hidden.” It’s like no other crime because it’s intimate— committed by someone who’s supposed to love you in the one place you’re supposed to be safe— your home.