Tag Archives: Colonialism

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Not My GirlChristy Jordan-Fenton and her mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton began publishing stories in 2010 about the older Pokiak-Fenton’s difficult childhood as a young Inuit child growing up in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Their four books in four years are comprised of two titles for middle grade readers, Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home, which were then adapted into two complementary picture books, When I Was Eight and this, Not My Girl, which debuted earlier this year.

Now 10 years old, Margaret finally returns to her family from the faraway “outsiders’ school” where “I had grown tall and very thin from two years of hard chores and poor meals.” Virtually unrecognizable, her mother’s reaction is wrenching: “‘Not my girl!’ she called in what little English she knew … everything she remembered of me” had been ‘educated’ out of young Margaret, including her native Inuit language, culture, and even her name.

“Olemaun,” her father reaches out to her: “I had not heard my Inuit name in so long I thought it might shatter like an eggshell with the weight of my father’s voice.” Tight in his embrace, her mother, too, finally reaches out and “sheltered me in that safe place between them.” In spite of their love and attention, Olemaun’s return to her family proves to be a difficult challenge: her stomach is unable to digest the family’s traditional foods, the sled dogs no longer recognize her scent, she only understands her father’s translations, and she has “lost the skills [she] needed to be useful … [to] help feed the family.” She’s even rejected by her only friend whose parents forbid her to play with another “outsider.” Slowly, Olemaun must find her place with her family once more, comforted by her favorite book and a helpless puppy.

Artist Gabrielle Grimard again illustrates the duo-generational collaboration; again, her open, nothing-hidden expressions enhance Olemaun’s experiences – her father’s gentle gaze, her disappointed worry over tangling the family fish net, her dare-to-be-hopeful glance as her mother guides her hands in using the traditional knife, her single tear that matches the single drop of rice water as she nurses her puppy. The trio again transforms painful, unfortunate memories into another enduring story of resilience, tenderness, and unconditional love.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Native American

Avatar: The Last Airbender | The Rift (Part One) created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, script by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler

Avatar Rift1Although our son incessantly watched various versions of the Avatar series on television and even more often on DVD, I had little knowledge for years of who’s who or what’s what. The casting controversy of the 2010 film version disastrously directed by M. Night Shyamalan is what actually made me take close notice (not to mention the ridiculously official email requests for assistance with finding the nameless “Asian-looking” faces for the anonymous large crowd scenes; nasty replies flew back!). And then 2006 and 2013 National Book Award finalist Gene Luen Yang took over the printed storyline in 2012, and I’ve been utterly hooked since!

The third and latest three-part adventure from Yang and company, The Rift, hits shelves mid-March – get your pre-orders in now! To find out how the city of Yu Dao – which both the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom cohabit peacefully – has become “the example” that the other colonies are all trying to emulate, you’ll first have to read The Promise and then The Search to get the full picture – highly encouraged!

While celebrating the announcement of Yu Dao’s new coalition government, Aang is visited by the spirit of Avatar Yangchen, Aang’s predecessor “four Avatars ago.” She’s obviously in distress, but Aang is unable to hear her warnings. He later realizes that he’s being called to observe the Yangchen Festival, “one of the highest holidays on the Air Nomad calendar,” which “hasn’t been celebrated in over a hundred years.”

Gathering Katara, Sokka, metalbending buddy Toph Beifong, and three Air acolytes, Aang flies Appa (their fluffy mode of transport) to “a cliff overlooking the ocean” where the festival traditionally begins. As the motley crew parades down to the meadow, what they see, smell, and experience is not the “sacred place” it should be: “This is what Yangchen was trying to tell me,” Aang comes to understand her silent entreaty. Keeping the newfound peace here is going to be quite the challenge.

Yang makes Rift especially contemporary, adding environmental health to issues of loyalty, power, parent/child filial duties, sacred bonds, gendered expectations, and (of course) much more. Intertwined with all that swashbuckling flying and bending entertainment are always subtle reminders to think and act beyond one’s comfort zones. Lessons to be learned for us all.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

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

The Little Hut of Leaping Fishes by Chiew-Siah Tei

Little Hut of Leaping FishesFor all the power and wealth of the Chai clan, discontent and tragedy haunts its three generations. With the challenges facing China at the turn of the 20th century as the last imperial dynasty crumbles and western colonialism looms, patriarch Master Chai’s once ironclad rule over his household begins to falter.

Born the first grandson, Mingzhi’s life is not necessarily his own to control as the family’s eventual heir. Obedient, hard-working, and honest, Mingzhi realizes early that his family’s extensive involvement in opium production is not an enterprise he supports nor wants to inherit. His path to redemption, as well as escape, is in education as he tenaciously works toward becoming a government official far from the family’s reach. Away from the Chai mansion, he finds reprieve and enlightenment in his eponymous “little hut of leaping fishes.”

In spite of an expansive cast of characters, author Chiew-Siah Tei tends toward simplified archetypes rather than multidimensional individuals. Mingzhi, for example, is the ‘good’ grandson with his laudable successes while his younger half-brother is the ‘bad’ counterpart – deceptive, lazy, and vengeful. Of Master Chai’s sons, one is a debauched opium addict with two wives, while the other is a filial, irreproachable, unmarried nurturer. Of the household’s two wives who belong to Mingzhi’s father, one remains a devoted mother and long-suffering silent wife; the other proves to be a scheming adulterous runaway.

Predictable as many of the characters might be, Tei manages plenty of unexpected plot twists and turns, from brutal rivalries to unexpected friendships to unrequited love. Her deft machinations earned her a 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist nod – no small feat for the Malaysian Chinese, Scottish-domiciled author writing her first novel in English (she’s won multiple prizes for her earlier titles in Chinese). If, by chance, you choose to go audible, the elaborate family saga is engagingly read with breathless animation by Malaysian Australian actor Keith Brockett, whose androgynous voice works especially well here.

Mingzhi reaches manhood in spite of abandonment, repeated betrayals, and even unexpected death – who needs enemies when you have your own family too ready to watch you suffer and fail? Such survival merits Mingzhi another life, as his story continues a vast ocean away in last year’s sequel, The Mouse Deer Kingdom. Further adventures ho! Stay tuned.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008

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

The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

Map of Lost MemoriesThis has been my go-to article of late: “The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don’t” by Gracie Jin. In the few blurbs I’ve briefly perused online about Lost Memories, I haven’t seen any mention of author Kim Fay‘s ethnic background (by photograph, she does not appear to be of Asian heritage), although I have come across a few commendations about her familiarity with Southeast Asia. The reviews seem mostly full of praise, and it garnered an Edgar Award nomination for Best First Novel in 2013.

But of course, I have to be the contrary one (think of this is as a public service announcement?), because Lost was surely a prime example of exoticized literary colonization. Irene Blum, not yet 30, doesn’t get the museum curator position she insists she deserves, mainly because she’s a woman in 1925. Her angry devastation proves brief, however, when her wealthy, dying mentor gives her the opportunity to discover a legendary temple in Cambodia which allegedly holds the secrets of the lost Khmer civilization.

Irene leaves Seattle for Shanghai where she convinces Simone Merlin, a Cambodian-born Frenchwoman with a reputation as temple raider and Communist sympathizer, to join her quest. After the two ambitious adventurers not-quite-on-purpose kill Simone’s abusive husband, they land in Saigon on their way to Cambodia. Both women pick up a lover – Simone’s old, Irene’s new – and eventually the foursome trek into the jungle, each with quite the contrasting agenda.

Irene’s motivation is purely personal gain: she plans to steal her Cambodian treasure to present to the American museum of her choice, cementing her career as a formidable curator. Hundreds of tedious pages later, she does indeed have some sort of too-late revelation (surprise!) about her self-absorbed greed and seemingly repent. In between, many – many – subplots meander and distract: lost parents, abandoned children, murder and other unsolved mysteries, secret pasts, orphan scribes of hidden libraries, and most prevalent of all, enough white privilege to keep the cringe-factor relentlessly zinging. Too much of Asia is but an exotic landscape to be manipulated, robbed, and colonized by the powerful, entitled white elite.

Hopeful that my tenacity (almost 13 hours stuck in the ears; narrator Karyn O’Bryant gallantly bears the weight of the faulty text) might somehow be rewarded with at least one character’s redemption, I grudgingly lasted through to the final track. Talk about misguided – lesson learned yet again: in the new year, literatus interruptus is a viable option that must be liberally exercised!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Cambodian, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Parrots Over Puerto RicoCo-authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, whose last project  à deux was the glorious The Mangrove Tree set in the tiny African country of Eritrea, travel south to the Caribbean to present another memorable story of preservation and conservation.

Welcome to Puerto Rico, home of the Puerto Rican parrot, also called iguacas in imitation of their cry: “They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.” Roth and Trumbore tell their avian story, intermingled with the island’s past, from the first island settlers that included the Taínos who hunted the parrots as both nourishment and pets, to Christopher Columbus who claimed the island for Spain, to the Spanish settlers who followed, to the stolen Africans enslaved to tame the land. Spain ruled Puerto Rico for centuries until it was lost in war to the United States, which claimed the island a U.S. territory in 1917.

Through all those millenia, the parrots suffered – their tree homes were devastated, they were hunted, killed, trapped, and what was left of their nesting areas were invaded by other birds. “By 1954, there were only two hundred parrots left.” Fourteen years later – why did it take so long? – the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was established to “save and protect the parrots.” And yet by 1975, a mere 13 parrots flew through the rain forest … how will the bright green flocks be saved?

Part history, part morality tale, part political treatise, part inspiring redemption, Roth and Trumbore’s collaboration is as much a lesson for us old folks as it is a story to share with our youngest. The “Afterword,” with its many photographs, is proof positive of a hopeful future. The timeline that follows of “Important Dates in the History of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Parrots” demands we learn from the past as we work to ensure that future in the present.

Roth’s richly detailed paper-and-fabric collages dazzle eyeballs of all ages, showcased in Christy Hale‘s brilliantly clever book design. By just (just!) turning the book’s orientation 90° − so that you flip the pages up rather than turn them from right to left – Hale adds soaring height that underscores the parrots’ flight (and plight); she literally sends the story aloft.

Final note: This Roth/Trumbore/Hale accomplishment is a memorable example of why e-readers are just not enough (Luddites unite!); the magic will disappear on the screen. So to fly with the iguaca, you’ll definitely need to choose the page.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Caribbean, Nonethnic-specific, Puerto Rican

Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura

Gone to the ForestSpare, lean, restrained, dare I say … ruthless? In her concision, yes. Katie Kitamura knows how to make each word count: “The old man lies on the bed and more than ever he secretes the toxic charisma of the dying.” Tell me that’s not a perfectly restrained, yet startlingly fecund compilation of words.

Such moments of literary awe are many despite the fact that, like her debut, The Longshot, Kitamura’s latest is also not quite 200 pages. Again, like LongshotForest was honored as a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award (2013) and appeared on many of the ‘Best of’-lists for 2012. Clearly, she’s a formidable contender not to be ignored.

In an unnamed colonized nation preparing to overthrow its oppressors, Kitamura lays bare the final dissolution of a widowed father and his only son. “[A]ll Tom wanted was the old man’s approval” – he who arrived 40 years ago among the first white settlers and built a sprawling farm – but the impending end of their relationship, of their lives as they have known it, remains bitter, desperate, tragic.

The father invites a young woman to move in, apparently intended to be Tom’s wife, yet claims her for his own bed with disastrous consequences. When he falls gravely ill, Tom remains truculently determined to keep the withering old man alive while safety and comforts disappear all around them.

If you choose to go audible, rest assured each page is crisply narrated by Paul Boehmer; the less-than-six hours is a taut thrill that resonates long after the final track. Focused and riveting, Forest reads like a modern fable, its brevity belying multiple layers seeped in historic colonialism, timeless betrayals, and the complicated dynamics of fathers and sons.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Japanese American

The Third Son by Julie Wu + Author Profile

Third SonVision and Reinvention: Julie Wu’s The Third Son

So how many detours can a writer make before becoming that writer?

If you’re newbie novelist Julie Wu – who knew as a Harvard undergraduate in the 1980s that writing was what she wanted to do – the answer might include a Master’s program in opera performance (after serious training in the violin), medical school and the related internships and residencies required to become a doctor, a successful Boston-area practice, and motherhood.

Two decades-plus ago (but who’s counting?), Wu was “too intimidated to try writing,” as she revealed in an April interview for TaiwaneseAmerican.org. The award-winning novelist-to-be Allegra Goodman lived in Wu’s dorm, having already published, while other fellow Harvardites were also writing novels. Despite the encouragement of a teacher who admired Wu’s first freshman expository writing assignment so much that she suggested Wu move into a creative writing section, Wu decided instead to be “practical.” She thought about taking a short story class but didn’t have anything to submit for the application. She kept reading – “I simply love novels – the immersive nature of them. They’re really the original virtual reality programs, made to run on your brain” – and graduated with a degree in literature. Her own writing was yet to come.

Then at 22, Wu had a vision about “a little boy in Taiwan – it was so vivid I rushed immediately to write it all down, and that’s when I realized that that was how to write – that it wasn’t just pushing words around, it was about having a vision and really communicating that vision to other people.” She planned on a novel – “I wanted to be, you know, Tolstoy” – but another almost-quarter century would pass before Wu’s debut novel, The Third Son, finally hit shelves in April earlier this year just after she turned 46.

Wu began writing in earnest in 2001, producing Tolstoy-worthy lengths before eventually distilling her original vivid vision down to just over 300 pages: “I lost track of the number of revisions. I didn’t even print them all out, but I have drawers, trunks, and filing cabinets filled with drafts. Someday I’ll have a big bonfire,” she told Jaime Boler of Bookmagnet. She estimates she kept a mere 2% of the original draft.

The one element that remained unwavering throughout was, of course that “little boy in Taiwan.” He became Wu’s eponymous “third son,” Saburo Tong, who is more comfortable with his Japanese first name than his unfamiliar Taiwanese moniker Tong Chia-lin. Born into a politically prominent family in Japanese-controlled Taiwan, Saburo comes of age in the 1940s and ’50s, a tumultuous time on his small island home as it moves from Japanese control to U.S. invasion to mainland Chinese domination. Inextricably woven with Saburo’s narrative is the violent history of Taiwan’s 228 Incident, which began with the Taiwanese uprising against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on February 27, 1947, resulted in the brutal massacre of 10-30,000 Taiwanese on February 28 (“228”), and ushered in the White Terror, a period of martial law that lasted nearly four decades during which thousands of citizens were harassed, imprisoned, and murdered. [... click her for more]

Author profile: “Vision and Reinvention: Julie Wu’s The Third Son,” Bloom, October 28, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Chinese American, Taiwanese, Taiwanese American

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

Sleeping DictionaryAfter 10 installments of her award-winning Rei Shimura mysteries, DC-area-based Sujata Massey goes historical with her latest Dictionary, published this summer after six years in the making. Dictionary marks the debut of a new series Massey intends, The Daughters of Bengal, each set in India. Given a choice between 500 pages in print or 16-plus hours stuck in the ears, choose the latter: Sneha Mathan’s crisp, enhancing narration adds both authenticity and depth.

From beloved daughter Pom (“our father … would sometimes say that a daughter’s life lengthened a father’s life and that for having three strong girls he might live to one hundred”), to freedom fighter Kamala (“‘you are too valuable to risk being arrested’”), to cherished wife and mother (“he held me as if the past had never happened”; “Your loving daughter, Kabita Zeenat Hazel Smith”), Dictionary follows the trajectory of a determined young woman through two of India’s most tumultuous decades when the sprawling country moves from colonial British rule to violently fractured independence.

Orphaned as a young girl in 1930 when a tidal wave destroys her West Bengal village, Pom is reborn as Sarah, a Christian servant at the girls-only Lockwood School. Alternatively abused and ignored, she tenaciously manages to learn more than the privileged British and Indian students. When she’s accused of a terrible crime, she barely escapes; before she reaches her intended destination of Calcutta, she mistakenly disembarks in the smaller city of Kharagpur where her new life as Miss Pamela keeps her trapped for too many years. By the time she finally arrives in Calcutta and becomes Kamala, she has more secrets than baggage. Her love of books – the only vestige of her truncated childhood – saves her again and again, especially in leading her new friends close enough to be family, fellow citizens committed to a greater cause, and even everlasting love.

Combining history, social commentary, espionage (Massey’s literary reputation thus far is based on thrillers, after all), and love-story-across-race-and-class-lines (British-born, Minnesota-raised Massey herself is hapa Indian and German), Dictionary is an intricate journey that occasionally lingers a bit too long (Kamala’s not-quite relationship with Pankaj), then suddenly speeds through rather too conveniently to its ending (no spoilers!). That said, learning the original meaning and history of the title alone was worth the read, especially as Massey adds her own literary layers. Besides, bumpy journeys can often be quite enlightening, detours and all.

Tidbit: Well, how interesting … look what Google pulled up: this no-relation-to-Massey’s-novel, celluloid Sleeping Dictionary features quite the high-power cast (Hugh Dancy as the dispatched English officer, Jessica Alba as the lowly local girl – I just have to cringe for so many reasons! – Brenda Blethyn, Bob Hoskins!). But it never went to the big screen, landing straight to video in 2003. Has anyone seen it?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Hapa, Indian, Indian African, South Asian, South Asian American

Author Interview: Kim Thúy

RuKim Thúy is one tough writer to get to, although she declares in our first email exchange when I finally track her down, “I am not at all the kind who plays hard to get :-) .” Attempts to contact her included pleas to both her Canadian and U.S. publishers and publicists (multiple times, ahem!), as well as to her Canadian literary agent’s office. Two months had already passed since my feature piece on Kim Thúy had been filed, edited, and readied for publication.

So, I got personal. I sent random emails to friends who happened to be Canadian writers. How hard could six degrees of separation be, right? I asked an Israeli Canadian buddy and an American ex-pat-now-Canadian professor. Nothing. And then I remembered a Nepali Canadian journalist author friend, who quickly replied she didn’t know Kim Thúy personally, but she thought of two friends who might. The connection that finally came through was a missive from Shanghai from a novelist on her way to a Vancouver residency! Talk about searching the ends of the world!

Kim Thúy insisted on a Skype chat: “… my English is weak [it’s so not!]. Live Skype allows me to use my hands to speak to you.” And she requested an 8:33 call on a Thursday morning, warning “a later time will be interrupted by all kinds of daily stuff: phone calls, people at the door, wild cats … and bears in the garden …” I will add that, regardless, her phone(s!) rang as if on cue every few minutes.

Still, we managed a two-hour session of gesticulating and laughing and outright guffawing.

Okay, so you’ll hear me typing while we talk, and I’m also recording our conversation …
Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’ve said so many stupid things during interviews, I don’t worry at all anymore! So you can do anything you want with this!

Then I might as well ask you the most selfish question right up front: when’s the next book coming out?
I’ve written two more since Ru! They are already out in French. My second book is with another author, Pascal Janojvak. We met in Monaco because we were both there for a book prize [the Prix Littéraires Prince Pierre de Monaco]. I had not read his book [L'Invisible] and he had not read mine. Pascal is half-French, his father is Slovak, and his parents met in Switzerland where he was born. But now he is living in Ramallah, in Palestine. And I wondered why a Swiss would be living in Ramallah! He had been there for five years, he had his kids there. And I thought, there must be a love story! He met his Italian wife in Beirut at the Institut Français. They lived in Bangladesh, then worked in Jordan, then got jobs in Ramallah. Their children have many passports! We first met for only one-and-a-half hours, but something just clicked. We exchanged our first email, and the story was right there. So we started writing this book, going back and forth. It’s called À toi.

Since it’s not translated into English yet, can you tell us about it?
When we met, first I talked about French colonization, about the Vietnamese people’s love/hate relationship with the dominant culture. For the Vietnamese, we want the French to leave our country, but then we also wish we had French features. We still wish to be French, even though we despise them, because we wish to be like those who have the power.

Then Pascal came back with a great story about Palestine, about what the kids are playing in the streets. He noticed that when they had a choice, the Palestinian children chose to be an Israeli soldier, because that’s the closest they had to a hero! When they played with planes, they wanted the supersonic models from Israel, not the Palestinian versions. Israeli products are always thought of as better than the Palestinian. That was very interesting to me. I knew so little about Palestine – beyond explosions, smoke, guns. But Pascal told me about how when a pot of soup is made by someone’s mother, she shares it with her friends. I don’t have that sort of image – of mothers, fathers, their children living their daily lives. But of course, they have the same daily lives as everyone else!

Pascal told me about all the stress in Gaza that has led to a big controversy with black market sleeping pills and Viagra. The men can’t sleep. They’re too tense and not relaxed enough for that. When he told me this story, I finally realized how they must always live under such pressure all the time. The body is always reacting, the body has to keep changing and adapting. But by being under stress always, we are just muting ourselves.

I wanted to continue this conversation with him, so we did that through writing the book.

And also, he was very handsome, by the way. And now you know I’m just superficial! I just wanted to talk to him. Anyway, that’s how we started. The book is about the same length as Ru. It’s not yet translated into English but I think soon. [...click here for more]

Author interview: “Q&A with Kim Thúy,” Bloom, September 18, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Memoir, .Translation, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American, Vietnamese, Vietnamese American

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names“We are on our way to Budapest,” 10-year-old Darling announces as NoViolet Bulawayo‘s 2013 Booker longlisted debut novel opens. ‘We’ includes “Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina,” banded together with plans to steal guavas as they sneak out of Paradise, the ironically named shantytown home the children refer to as a “kaka toilet.” In spite of warnings, the children regularly, longingly, venture to London, Los Angeles, Paris, in addition to Budapest – all the nearby wealthy neighborhoods where they will never be welcomed. Already Darling is determined she will be “blazing out of this kaka country” – Zimbabwe, although never named, where Bulawayo was born and raised.

Darling comes of age living with her grandmother (who still keeps Queen Elizabeth-visaged British money hidden in her Bible under her bed long after only U.S. dollars and South African rands have any buying power), her traveling mother who needs to support three generations of women, and her deadbeat father who unexpectedly returns from South Africa as a barely recognizable near-skeleton. Sundays are spent perspiring on a mountain, where “that crazy Prophet Revelations Bitchington MBorro” one week climbs on top of a screaming woman to exorcise her demons, and Chipo – silenced by her mysterious pregnancy at age 11 – reclaims her voice to reveal she was raped by her grandfather.

Before Chipo’s baby is born, countrywide violence will send Darling to the other side of the world. Degraded by colonial legacy and trapped in murderous unrest, survival means escape: “Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps.” Darling is one of the lucky few who has an Aunt Fostalina who arrives to take her away, seemingly to safety as her grandmother laments the “ruin” of their country. Even as she is buffered by new family and friends, Darling’s immigrant rebirth comes at a high price: “They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are …”

Labeled “A Novel” on the cover, Bulawayo’s chapters read more like short stories that could easily stand alone. The result is effectively jarring, creating a sense of disconnect that jumps from story to story, as if echoing Darling’s disjointed coming-of age – her African childhood defined by inequity and horror, and the subsequent adaptations she must make as a stranger in a strange land. Stuck in the ears, narrator Robin Miles imbues Darling’s journey with resonating tension, regret, and hope.

The Booker shortlist debuts in a couple of weeks, on September 10, when this year’s “Booker dozen” of 13 will drop to five or six titles. I’m betting Names will stay in the running … at least until October 15 when Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland will remain the last one standing. Stay tuned.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, African, African American