Review: The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2020)

Reviewed by Megan Foster

A good man is hard to find, as they say. This is certainly the case in Cuban author Marcial Gala’s The Black Cathedral, a darkly comic novel that buzzes around the Stewart family’s fated arrival to Cienfuegos. Arturo Stewart moves with his wife Carmen and their three children – David King, Samuel Prince, and Johannes – with the express purpose of constructing a titular cathedral to outshine any temple in Cuba and make Cienfuegos the new Jerusalem. It doesn’t take long for the neighborhood to suspect that the Stewarts are not what they seem.  Readers must determine whom to trust as the novel rapidly flits through everyone’s point of view but the Stewarts: town gossips, classmates, a school principal, an architect, a drag queen, ghosts, a serial killer. In a town spurred by greed and violence, no one is holier than thou. 

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Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (Mira Books 2020)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

Historical fiction opens the gateway to a different time and place. The settings themselves make readers long for somewhere they’ve never been. This is the case in Alka Joshi’s debut novel, The Henna Artist.

Set in the 1950s, The Henna Artist transports us back to India a few years after gaining independence from the British. Joshi’s vivid imagery makes India’s past crawl off the page, bringing it to life: “We entered a colonnade flanked by lush gardens. Topiary elephants frolicked on the lawns. Live peacocks pranced around circular fountains. Stone urns sprouted honeysuckle, jasmine and sweet pea” (142). Amidst the color and beauty of historical India, Joshi also gives us a taste of the social, economic, and political climates of the time, shedding light on the difficulties for people of lower castes and women.

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Review: The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore

The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir By Wayetu Moore (Graywolf Press 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that goes, “Fairy tales are not told to tell children that dragons exist. Children already know the dragons exist. Fairy tales are told to tell that dragons can be killed.” But what happens when the dragons follow a child throughout their life? Such is the case with author Wayetu Moore in her memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women.

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Review: Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

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.

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Review: Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang

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.

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Review: The Magical Language of Others by EJ Koh

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.

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Review: Deacon King Kong By James McBride

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead Books 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

            During such turbulent times, it is important to have a sense of humor. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy has never been as eloquent as in James McBride’s latest novel, Deacon King Kong. McBride’s follow up to his National Book Award winning The Good Lord Bird draws on the same wit and humor as the author observes and records the human condition.

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Review: So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith

So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand central publishing 2020)

Reviewed by Lisa Slage Robinson                         

I’ve told everyone, I’ll tell you. I married Bridge because he’s thunder. That man right there is a pack of hungry wolves howlin’ at the moon.

Leesa Cross-Smith explores the complexities of modern love and rediscovers the bold frontier of feminine desire in the highly anticipated So We Can Glow (Grand Central Publishing, 2020) a collection of 42 short stories, flashes and meditations.

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Review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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.

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