A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine Books 2019)
Reviewed by Amaya Hunsberger
Vanessa Hua’s debut novel, A River of Stars, follows the path of Scarlett, a pregnant Chinese woman while the child’s father, Boss Yeung, wishes to do business in America. She is sent to Perfume Bay in San Francisco where she and other pregnant Chinese women will deliver their children in secret in order to ensure American citizenship for their babies. The whole operation is run by Mama Fang, a lucrative entrepreneur. After finding out that her unborn child is a girl, she escapes the facility with a teenager named Daisy, and together they make their way to San Francisco’s Chinatown. There, they rely on the generosity of a new community and their own ingenuity in order to survive.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press 2019)
Reviewed by Claudine Mininni
Esmé Weijun Wang’s illuminating essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, details her tumultuous relationship with schizoaffective disorder. In her opening essay, “Diagnosis,” Wang writes:
Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense; we divide the interminable days into years, months and weeks.
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
If “cat got your tongue” is the euphemism for not finding your words, then “a ghost in the throat” is its opposite. Author Doireann Ni Ghiofa defines it best in her titular combo of auto-fiction and essay as she explores her need to write about Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill, the eighteenth-century noblewoman and poet of Ireland’s classical keen, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, or The Lament for Art O’Laoghaire, is Chonaill’s account of the romance and death of her husband, and is taught in Ireland’s literature curriculum as one of the greatest poems written in the country’s history. However, Ghiofa points out that this is one of the few texts written by Chonaill herself. How can someone so famous have little to no other accounts written about them? Ghiofa’s book chronicles her search for the story surrounding Chonaill’s life while intertwining her own experience of hardship and motherhood during her years of research. Her prose does its best to put into words the yearning need to give voice to the silenced artists of the past.
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung (Ecco Press)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
Books can find their way to you at exactly the right moments. With many significant social issues demanding justice in the weeks preceding the 2020 election and the path ahead foggy at best, I was in need of strength and hope. Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse, and her heroine Katherine, appeared as an omen of power and resistance.
handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
There is an artist inside all of us. The art we create can be subjective, but that does not diminish the time, care, and functionality someone puts into the act of creating. That is just one of the lessons gleamed from Irish author Sara Baume’s nonfiction debut, handiwork. In this short narrative, Baume combines her mediums of sculpting, carving, writing, and photography to illustrate the trials and joys of being an artist. handiwork chronicles her thoughts on the universality of art and its struggles while working on a woodworking series about her fascination with birds. She even treats her readers with the fruits of her carving labors with interspersed photographs of her avian subjects.
OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.
Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?
“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)
How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero (Not A Cult, 2018)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
Featured in Oprah Magazine under the title “17 of the Best Poetry Books, as Recommended by Acclaimed Writers for National Poetry Month” How to Pull Apart the Earth is described by writer Laura Villareal as a journey into “the collective memory found in [the author’s] personal history, reminding us that we are rooted in the same familial tenderness.” The beautifully written 71 poems speak to the author’s identity as a Chicanx/Latinx woman raised in the border town of Calexico and themes of family, migration, and awareness, as well as identity and belonging, are seamlessly weaved throughout.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Penguin Random House 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I have never encountered a person who is not fully human in 35 years of private practice as a clinical psychologist. Diagnoses, country-of-origin, race, religion, and financial status do not define people. Not at all. Why do we say that a person has cancer or has arthritis and, conversely, say that a person is autistic or is an immigrant as if those labels completely define them?
Assigning labels condemns people
to a marginalized purgatory. Perceived to be less than human, unable to love or
feel pain, they’re relegated to the sidelines of life and deemed to be odd,
bizarre, even dangerous.
Nature Store by Mary Kasimor (dancing girl press & studio, 2017)
Reviewed by Ann Tweedy
Mary Kasimor is an experimental poet who has published
numerous books and chapbooks and who, more recently, has begun to establish
herself as a visual artist. Now retired,
she served for many years as a professor at a technical college in
Minnesota. She describes her art as
being like her poetry in that it is “very experimental and abstract.” She uses thread, ink and paint (watercolor or
acrylic). Her paintings, reminiscent of
Rothko’s early work, have soft shapes connected by wavy lines which are set
against a colorful background. Her
poetry is imagistic and non-linear and often explores gender and other social
justice issues, along with her own experiences.