Tag Archives: Bloomsbury Review

Cozy Winter Reads

Since we had SNOW yesterday in DC, I guess we still have some leftover winter. Brrrr …

So here’s my latest piece for The Bloomsbury Review, which arrived in my snail mailbox over the weekend. I can’t see it in the tiny thumbnail (maybe younger, better eyeballs can), but that right corner of the cover points to my “Cozy Winter Reads: A Survey.” Here’s how it starts … with a link to the rest …

Baby, it’s cold outside … the perfect excuse to get all cuddled up with a great book! Need some recent suggestions? Read on …

Survey: The Bloomsbury Review, Winter 2011-2012, pp. 14-17

Readers: All

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction

In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage: A Survey of New & Notable Books in The Bloomsbury Review

I’ve been doing an annual New & Notable roundup of APA titles for The Bloomsbury Review for more than a few years now. This year’s installment is running a little later than usual. I know you can’t see it here, but the roundup is referenced in the left column of the cover of the latest Summer issue  (the main cover article on Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – see below – is also mine, whoo hooo!). So here’s the article

In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage
May was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The good news: the list of new books to share gets longer every year. The bad news: My old eyeballs just can’t keep up with the plethora of titles! Here are my latest findings … and apologies right now for the titles I’ve missed! [... click here for more ...]

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage,” The Bloomsbury Review, Summer 2010

Readers: All

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Nonfiction, Pan-Asian Pacific American

Author Interview: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Sharing Humanity: A Talk with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni about Her Latest Novel, One Amazing Thing

Over the last decades, tragedies – both human-made and those wrought by an ever-angry Mother Nature – seem to be coming at humankind with fast and furious regularity. The latest oil spill devastating the Gulf of Mexico promises to be the worst disaster of its kind in history. This short year alone, horrific earthquakes, erupting volcanic plumes, and tumbling mud slides have not stopped their violent paths.

And yet, somehow, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni manages to craft some of the worst tragedies into memorable, haunting stories of human connection. The last long conversation I shared with Divakaruni became a featured cover article for the November/December 2004 issue of TBR. Her just-published novel at the time was Queen of Dreams, which she wrote as a direct personal response to 9/11, haunted not only by the vivid images of what happened, but also by the repercussions felt throughout the country, especially in the South Asian American community.

In February of this year, bookstores across the country lined their bookshelves with One Amazing Thing, the latest from Divakaruni, an award-winning, multi-platform writer of short stories (Arranged Marriage, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives), poetry (Black Candle, Leaving Yuba City), middle grade/young adult titles (Neela: Victory Song and the three-volume Brotherhood of the Conch trilogy), and adult novels (including The Mistress of Spices, The Vine of Desire, Sister of My Heart). At the core of Divakaruni’s new novel is a violent earthquake in an unnamed U.S. city, its aftereffects almost a character itself. Incredibly, the book was written long before the too-recent tragic earthquake disasters in Haiti, then Japan, Chile, and China. Divakaruni’s timing proved presciently shocking.

In One Amazing Thing, nine men and women are trapped in the basement visa office of an Indian consulate, and must gather their strength, both physically and mentally, in order to survive the devastating earthquake that wipes out all contact with the outside world. Two characters emerge as the group’s leaders: Cameron, an African American Vietnam veteran still fighting demons, is the most qualified to deal with the group’s physical safely, while Uma, an Indian American graduate literature student inspired by the heavy copy of The Canterbury Tales she carries in her backpack, turns to storytelling to distract the group’s growing anxiety. “‘We can take our stress out on one another,’” Uma admonishes after a desperate incident, “‘… or we can focus our minds on something compelling … we can each tell an important story from our lives.’” Uma assures her audience, “‘I don’t believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing.’”

And so the stories unfold: Grandmother Jiang’s first love in the Chinese quarter of Calcutta, Mr. Pritchett’s beloved kitten that shuts down his little-boy heart, Malathi’s gleefully brave revenge on an abusive wealthy woman, Tariq’s firsthand experience of post-9/11 injustice against his innocent family, Lily’s discovery of her prodigious musical talent, Mangalam’s emotional destruction, Mrs. Pritchett’s longing to escape her overprivileged life … and finally Cameron’s desperate search for a lost child and Uma’s own need to understand true, lasting love.

As the waters rise, the gas leaks, and disappointments prove almost crippling, nine strangers who once expected to change their lives in faraway India, share a life-altering experience right here at home. [... click here for more]

Author interview: “Sharing Humanity: A Talk with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni about Her Latest Novel, One Amazing Thing,” The Bloomsbury Review, Summer 2010

Readers: Adult


Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, Indian American, South Asian American

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Five years ago, Taipei-born Malaysian British Tash Aw landed in the media spotlight with The Harmony Silk Factory, complete with public speculations about an allegedly enormous debut advance. Decorated with multiple important prizes, including Commonwealth and Whitbread first novel awards, Aw’s Factory earned him both fortune and fame.

Last May, Aw’s sophomore effort, Map of the Invisible World, arrived on British shelves, but took another eight months to cross the Pond. Without a doubt, as lauded as Aw’s debut was, Map is even better.

At its core, Map is a story about a family in search of home. Set mostly in Indonesia in 1964 during a tumultuous “Vivere Pericoloso … Year of Living Dangerously” as named by then-President Sukarno in his Indonesian Independence Day speech, the two-member de Willigen family comprised of father Karl and son Adam is torn apart by race and politics.

Although Indonesia declared independence in August 1945 after centuries of Dutch colonialism followed by Japanese occupation during World War II, the Netherlands did not acknowledge Indonesia’s sovereignty until 1949. Decades of turbulent transition followed for Indonesia’s citizens – both native and naturalized.

Born on a remote Indonesian island to Dutch parents, Karl desperately wishes (and almost believes) that he was his hired wet-nurse’s half-Indonesian son. His need to belong to the only home he’s ever known manifests in his longing for an Indonesian family: “’I want to have an Indonesian child. A boy. He’ll be my alter ego, except better, and happier.’”

Years later, Karl’s adoption of five-year-old native orphan Adam completes the de Willigen family. But for Adam, a new father means he must acknowledge he has forever lost his only other family, an older brother Johan he “cannot remember the slightest thing about … not even his face.”

“’My name is Adam and I have no surname,’” he used to announce to detach himself, but he eventually accepts that his “Present Life” permanently includes Karl. In their idyllic house by the sea on the “lost island” of Nusa Perdo, he settles into his new identity as Adam de Willigen, which “sounds just right.”

Refusing to acknowledge the growing xenophobia, Karl and Adam are caught unawares when Karl becomes one of thousands of Dutch Indonesians rounded up for forceful expulsion. One day, soldiers simply take Karl away – “no violence, hardly any drama” – as 16-year-old Adam helplessly watches.

Ten days later, Adam tracks down Margaret Bates, an Indonesian-born, U.S.-national, university professor long domiciled in Jakarta. Hers is the only name he finds repeated in his father’s personal papers and photos. “’I wasn’t prying, you understand, I was just looking for clues. I need to find my father,’” he explains to a bewildered Margaret.

And thus the search begins. Driven by decades-old memories of her 15-year-old-self, Margaret calls on an overly-complacent Australian journalist friend and an untrustworthy U.S. Embassy official in her desperate quest to find Karl – whom she finally admits to be her long lost love.

In the big city for the first time, Adam falls victim to Margaret’s enigmatic graduate student, Din, who hopes to one day write “a secret history of the Indonesian Islands … a history of our country written by an Indonesian.” His militant patriotism both repulses and fascinates wide-eyed Adam, while his promises to help Adam find his brother Johan lead the teenager towards grave danger.

With controlled elegance, Aw lays out a multi-layered puzzle whose pieces create a haunting portrait of a splintered family working towards reunion. The militant Din tells Margaret of his visions of a “lost world where everything remained true and authentic, away from the gaze of foreigners – a kind of invisible world, almost.” Din unmistakably refers to an Indonesia untouched, certainly uncontrolled by western colonialism.

Ironically, Din’s ‘lost world’ points specifically to the southeastern Indonesian islands, which include Buru where Karl was born, and the fictional Perdo where Karl has chosen to build his adult home. Only in Din’s lost world – which Karl refers to again and again as “paradise” – can Karl and Adam be ‘true and authentic’ as father and son. But their Edenic existence proves fleeting, and both Karl and Adam are separately cast out.

“Home was not necessarily where you were born, or even where you grew up, but something else entirely, something fragile that could exist anywhere in the world.” For Adam, home must be with Karl, with new hopes of being joined someday by Johan and even Margaret. To get there, these unlikely individuals must move beyond history, politics, skin color, barriers, and background … and find their way together, somewhere on that map of the invisible world.

Review: The Bloomsbury Review, Spring 2010

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, British Asian, Malaysian, Southeast Asian

When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao, English text adapted by Sarah L. Thomson

when-the-moon-forgotWhen the moon fails to rise one night – and continues to stay away – many moons are manufactured so everyone can have one of their own. But only one boy carefully nurtures his moon which beams with the boy’s unwavering love, until eventually, the moon grows independent to shine once more. As always, Liao’s wistful illustrations are perfect.

Is it me … or does that adorable little boy have a not-so-vague resemblance to the little hero of Where the Wild Things Are? … which is apparently coming to a theater near you!

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Readers: Children

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Claire and the Bakery Thief and Claire and the Water Wish by Janice Poon


City-girl Claire reluctantly moves to the country, where her parents open an all-organic bakery. During her first summer in the country, she saves her kidnapped mother with the help of her new best friend Jet. When the school year begins, she helps expose toxic dumping by a nearby company and becomes a local hero. Poon uses a combination of diary entries and storyboard graphics to vividly capture Claire’s adventures.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2008, 2009

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Nonethnic-specific

Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens: Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945 by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, photographs by Hikaru Carl Iwasaki, foreword by Norman Y. Mineta

japanese-american-resettlement-through-the-lensAmazingly, the War Relocation Authority (WRA), managed to generate some 17,000 photos of Americans of Japanese ancestry who spent the majority of the duration of World War II in prison camps for little more than looking like the enemy.

Of these photos, Hirabayashi looks at the experience of Japanese American resettlement – the process by which the unjustly imprisoned, but deemed “loyal” Americans were released from camps and reentered mainstream society – captured by self-taught photographer Hikaru Carl Iwasaki, who was hired by the WRA as a 19-year-old young man straight out of Heart Mountain prison camp. Hirabayashi, an Asian American Studies professor at UCLA, provides historical context behind the disturbingly smiling images of these wrongly persecuted Americans.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Tidbit: Lane Hirabayashi, together with photographer Hikaru Carl Iwasaki, will both be at the National Museum of American History on Saturday, September 19, 2009, for a Smithsonian APA Program event, “Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens.” Make sure to join us!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Japanese American

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun

miles-from-nowhereNami Mun‘s debut is the disturbing but ultimately hopeful story of runaway Joon, a Korean American teenager whose father abandons the family, whose mother loses her sanity, who must somehow navigate homelessness, drug addiction, and sexual abuse to survive the unprotected streets of 1980s New York.

Even as she creates a family of sorts – a street-wise African American woman only a few years older, a prostitute boy who loves hot chocolate, an older man only to happy to be her boyfriend, a drug-and-alcohol-addicted Vietnam vet she meets at Narcotic Anonymous where she goes to eat the cookies, the Spam-eating roommate who begs her to keep the baby as they both search for the next hit, and later the boy who breaks her heart – her fractured existence provides little solace. When she finally decides she must get clean (again), she finds true kindness in strangers who offer her the solid support that just might be enough to start a new life. 

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Korean American

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

shine-coconut-moonFour days after 9/11, a man wearing a turban shows up on Samar’s doorstep – and turns out to be her uncle. After years of estrangement, he’s determined to reunite the fractured family – and in the process teach Sam about her Sikh American heritage. Her comfortable life à deux with her divorced mother disappears, especially in the wake of 9/11 when just looking like the enemy is all the justification some people need for so-called patriotic retaliation.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Indian, Indian American

Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma

secret-identitiesThe SI boys gather some of the top names in Asian American pop culture to present a unique anthology of the Asian American experience – complete with masked crusaders, caped champions, and even everyday heroes. Together, they’re making our ever-morphing, multi-culti American future a safer, more inclusive place for all our kids!

The SI boys have also put together one heck of a website, where you can actually see some of their superheroes come to life! Check it out by clicking here.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Tidbit: Jeff Yang and I – together with our buddy Dina Gan – did Eastern Standard Time together! Jeff and I go back to the third issue of aMagazine: Inside Asian America, for which I was theater columnist and then books editor, too. Amazingly enough, I outlasted even Jeff until the last and final issue. That was another lifetime ago. And Parry Shen, perhaps best known on the big screen as one of the overachieving boys of the breakout film Better Luck Tomorrow, had an almost-SI adventure of a different sort … SI as in Smithsonian Institution. His BLT co-stars, John Cho and Sung Kang, together with director Justin Lin, all came to the Smithsonian in March 2003 for the first-ever screening of the final cut of their groundbreaking film. 

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Pan-Asian Pacific American