Tag Archives: Father/son relationship

Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers by John Harris Dunning, art by Nikhil Singh

Salem BrownstoneSalem Brownstone, once the proprietor of the Sit & Spin Laundromat, gets an ominous telegram (on Halloween, naturally) calling him to New Mecco City, Azania to “take immediate possession of his [late father's] house and the contents therein.” His mourning – “[a]fter all these years of wanting to know my father, now it’s too late. I’ve lost him” – is short-lived when he discovers an intruder in the manse …

Before Salem has time to get better acquainted with visiting Cassandra Contortionist, who knew his father, the Shadow Boys descend. Uh-oh. Cassandra passes Salem the “scrying ball” which belonged to Salem’s father, with warnings that he must always keep it safe. Injured during their escape, Salem wakes up surrounded by the many creatures of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights. As Salem recovers, many strange occurrences happen, not the least of which include evil, dark plans to take over the universe. Salem, of course, holds the key – I mean the ball – to keeping the world in balance.

While the plot follows a rather straightforward good vs. evil narrative, the art is anything but predictable. As revealed in artist Nikhil Singh’s bio notes, the panels were seven years in the drawing with a major move in between for both creators from South Africa to London. From Salem’s single expressively squiggly eyebrow, to the mysterious Lola Q’s eyepatch, to Ed Harm’s stages of mutant transformation, and so much more, Singh’s irreverent, protean imagination is clearly manifested in the myriad tiny, peculiar elements of each panel.

Reading swiftly through will restore your sense of goodness and safety, but you’ll find you need to go back again and again)to make sure you haven’t missed any important details. After all, the fate of the universe lies between these glorious, mercurial pages.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, British, British Asian, South African

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

Flight by Sherman Alexie

FlightI spent my last birthday with Sherman Alexie … and a few hundred others, too. He happened to be in residence for a week at our son’s new school (!), and son came home announcing that Alexie thought son’s name made him sound like a superhero!

That night, Alexie made a community-wide appearance following a screening of his and Chris Eyre‘s iconic film, Smoke Signals. As Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian had just hit the #2 spot of the latest “Top Ten Challenged Books” and Banned Books Week 2013 was about to commence, Alexie had a few choice words to share about freedom of speech and more. His enlightening hysterics made quite the memorable birthday gift.

So all this is related! Because Smoke Signals star Adam Beach pitch-perfectly narrates Flight, 10 years after his celluloid performance. “Call me Zits,” Alexie’s genre-defying slim novel opens. Beach’s delivery is as deadpan as Alexie’s’ storytelling as his 15-year-old protagonist time travels from his troubled young life through multiple decades and bodies.

Zits lost his Indian father – “more in love with beer and vodka than with my mother and me” – almost at birth. At 6, his Irish mother passed away: “I sometimes wish she’d died when I was younger so I wouldn’t remember her at all.” He moved in with an aunt whose boyfriend abused him, and then through 20 foster homes and 22 schools. Angry, alone, and lost, Zits is a pixellated hapa adolescent who’s “been partially raised by too many people.”

He meets a boy named Justice who convinces Zits to take part in a bank shoot-out. Zits should have died, but instead, he wakes to find himself in the 1970s, in the body of a white FBI agent who witnesses the murder of “two famous Indian guys.” His adventure is just beginning, as he lands in Little Bighorn as a young Indian boy without a voice, as the “best Indian tracker in the entire U.S. Army,” as a pilot and flight instructor who still misses his favorite student, and then, shockingly, as his own missing father.

Zits’ impossible journey is filled with lessons in broad perspective … and, because Alexie is writing the nuanced story, mixed in with the racism, violence, and tragedy, humor is also never far. Alexie deftly balances between surreal fantasy and brutal reality, as he guides young Zits toward an identity – and a “real name”! – with possibility and promise.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Native 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 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

GoldfinchAccording to a recent article, “The Book(s) of the Year” in PublishersLunch, “the clear consensus for the 2013 ‘book of the year’ has ended in … a tie. George Saunders’ Tenth of December and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch stood well above all others in the final count [aggregated from 58 sources], each garnering 25 picks.” The former is still stuck high up on my ‘must-read’ pile; the latter only seems to prove that massive mega-bestsellers and I just don’t get along.

The Goldfinch started grandly. Narrator David Pittu, who can tend toward unreliable, was in prime form when I committed to the 32.5 hours stuck in the ears (784 pages to strain your eyeballs). The first third had me enthralled, full of exquisite moments about longing, regret, missed opportunities, first love, salvation through art, beauty, and oh so much more. Theo Decker, at 13, loses his beloved mother in a Manhattan terrorist bombing at the Met. When Theo walks out alive, he carries with him a centuries-old ring, a priceless piece of art, and eternal guilt. All three will determine the course of the rest of his life.

Not knowing where his left-years-ago-father might be, social services places Theo in the home of a wealthy Park Avenue friend. His deadbeat dad unexpectedly reappears with his tacky girlfriend, empties the only home Theo has ever known, and moves him to Las Vegas. There Theo becomes inseparable friends with also-motherless, alternately neglected and abused Boris, who initiates Theo into the hazy world of booze, drugs, and delinquency.

As the characters repeatedly sink into oblivion, so, too, the novel devolves into utter tedium. More deaths, more deception, more regrets, more impossible chases continue to happen … until Theo ends up in an Amsterdam hotel room feverishly writing letters he’ll never send before he lands back in New York, deus ex machina-style.

At 16 hours in, I should have stopped, but curiosity kept me captive: I needed to understand this book’s stellar success. At 26 hours, I actually went in search of ‘customer reviews’ to see if I had completely lost my sanity since every media outlet seemed enthralled. Amidst the shining five-out-of-five stars, I also found “boring,” “dreck,” “SKIP,” “disappointing” … and yet I plodded on. By 30 hours, I was actually talking back to the iPod demanding death as the only reprieve (who knew I could be so desperate?).

Readers, I survived. To the very last word, although I’m convinced I’ve been embroiled in some ‘emperor’s new clothes-plot. If nothing else, at least I can tell the coach … all that ultramarathoning has certainly upped my endurance.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan by Leslie Helm

Yokohama Yankee‘Sprawling’ barely begins to describe journalist/editor Leslie Helm‘s ambitious family history that spans nearly a century-and-a-half, three continents, and the titular five generations of a German Japanese American family with current branches spread throughout the rest of the world. Prompted by the death of his difficult father in 1991, and further spurred by the imminent adoption of two children soon thereafter, Leslie embarks on a personal quest to discover the complicated layers of his mixed-race heritage.

In 1868, Julius Helm, then 28, left his father’s 400-acre farm in Rosow, Germany, for a new American life only to find his options were limited to being a common laborer in Minnesota. One year later, the transcontinental railroad took him to San Francisco, where he narrowly missed his intended ship to China and landed instead in Yokohama in 1869.

Barely a decade earlier, Japan had been opened to foreign trade, and Yokohama was a primary entry point into the still-insular country. Julius’ arrival was fortuitously-timed: after moving from various minor jobs and apprenticeships, working for the German consul, and training Japanese soldiers, Julius eventually established himself – and his future generations – as an important merchant presence in Yokohama. Five of his nine siblings followed him to Japan. And his Japanese wife and their four hapa children insured the Helm family’s lasting Japanese ties.

Japanese ancestors, Japanese spouses, Japanese births left most of the Helm generations conflicted over the next 140 years: ‘The Helm relatives I knew were people caught between cultures,” Leslie observes. “… Most had lived on three continents and spoke four languages, yet they never felt at home in any one country.” Caught between a belief of superiority over the Japanese and too often a shameful insecurity over mixed blood, each generation of Helms battled doubts about their identity. Four generations removed from Julius, Leslie is the first to explore, explicate, and accept his challenging relationship with the country of his birth. Ironically, the fifth and latest Helm generation returns the family (at least Leslie’s branch) to Japanese ethnic ‘purity’ as both Leslie and his older brother adopted Japanese children; the children’s American upbringing, however, guarantees the Helms’ cultural hybridity.

Working with unpublished memoirs and diaries (including Julius’ biography “[r]e-written from his personal notes, by his brother Karl”), aging photographs, letters, articles, public records and registries, interviews, and memories, Leslie admirably attempts to corral an unwieldy cast of characters into a single historical narrative. His presentation is not always smooth: sections lag, skip, overlap (Leslie’s father Don’s life story, interwoven throughout, is often jarring to the story’s flow), while certain repetitions are unrelenting (too many of the Helms’ self-loathing doubts and denials). That said, the pages continue turning and fascinating details keep the narrative moving; the book’s latter chapters about the rediscovery of a distant, elderly Japanese cousin and the newly established bond with extended Japanese relatives of Julius’ Japanese wife’s family are particularly memorable.

Whatever its narrative pitfalls, this memoir is an undeniable visual success, exquisitely designed with fascinating photographs, historic documents, maps, handwritten notes and passages, travel stamps, and family crests. The mementos add a vibrant intimacy that overshadows any literary missteps. The family that emerges from these pages, with deep roots in Japan yet constantly in flux between wars, migrations and returns, economic opportunities – not to mention languages and cultures – proves to be a resilient force of inspiration, tenacity, and discovery.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, European, Hapa, Japanese, Japanese American

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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The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: The Shadow of the Wind, Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

Cemetery of Lost Books 1.2.3 plus Rose

Well, crud. In spite of making a list and checking it twice, thrice, and more, I read these in about as ‘wrong’ order as I possibly could. But before I offer two preventative options, some quick background: the full Cemetery of Forgotten Books by internationally bestselling Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón;is a series of four volumes, plus a single (thus far) short story. For us non-original text readers, the series is translated by Lucia Graves, the daughter of renowned English poet and novelist Robert Graves (I, Claudius). While I can’t comment on word-to-word accuracy, more than a few phrases carried an anachronistic din; would a well-raised teenager in the 1920s (no matter how feisty) speaking to an older man thusly – “‘I’m cold and my bum’s turned to stone …,’” much less tell him to “‘shut up’”? Original readers, please do chime in.

But back to order. Literally. The first three Forgotten Books are pictured above, together with the short story, “The Rose of Fire,” which is available as a free download by clicking here. I can’t find any further information on the fourth and final Book – if anyone has any tidbits, do share! Nope, I’m not above begging!

So here’s two suggested paths through the Cemetery:

  1. You could choose the books in the order they were published: Shadow, Angel’s, “Rose,” Prisoner.
  2. Or, you could choose to read chronologically by narrative: “Rose,” Angel’s, Shadow, Prisoner.

Inexplicably, I ended up reading Prisoner, Angel’s, Shadow, “Rose.” I went audible (highly recommended!) with each of the three novels voiced by a different reader: Peter Kenny (Prisoner) was the trio’s best for his diverse characterizations, Jonathan Davis (Shadow) felt a wee bit subdued in comparison, and Dan Stevens (Angel’s) was the most memorable purely because of his star factor [Stevens is currently best known as the late – sniff, sniff! – Cousin Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey; he had hidden Kindle-sized pockets sewn into his Downton costumes so he could spend every available second reading for his 2012 Man Booker judging duties!].

All that said, the most important detail to take from this multi-volume post is to read them all, in whatever order you can grasp your hands around. For now, let’s choose option 2. Why know more before you need to? Not only is ignorance bliss, but delayed gratification will surely keep you swiftly turning the pages.

Let “Rose” set the mood by explaining the 15th-century origins of the titular Cemetery of Lost Books, and introduces the literary Sempere family. The Cemetery and the Semperes – all ensconced in Barcelona, a darkly magical city with a terrible history – appear in every volume. Fast forward to the 1920s in Angel’s Game, in which a young writer, David Martín, survives a brutal childhood during which Sempere & Sons was his only refuge: “My favorite place in the whole city.” He begins his career writing newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves on to his own popular horrific fictions published regularly under a pseudonym. He falls in love with an elusive woman he loses, but is forever adored by a young girl Isabella who refuses to leave him. When the one and only title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, he begins to write a new book in fulfillment of a shockingly lucrative contract for a mysterious foreign publisher. And then the real-life murders begin … and multiply.

Almost three decades later, in The Shadow of the Wind, the Sempere son, Daniel, is on a quest of his own. After discovering Julián Carax’s novel of the same name, Daniel quickly learns that his is one of the very last copies in the world. But a devoted reader always wants more – even after learning that some monster is out there burning every Carax book – and Daniel decides he’s going to find Carax himself.

A few years have passed when the The Prisoner of Heaven begins with Daniel now a husband and father. His closest friend, devoted bookshop employee, and sworn bachelor, Fermín Romero de Torres, is about to get married to the one true love of his life. Although Daniel has never doubted Fermín’s love and loyalty to the Sempere family, he needs to find some definitive answers when a wealthy stranger makes a surprise purchase at the family bookstore and is eventually revealed to be using Fermín’s own beloved name. The real – or not? – Fermín’s confessions returnDavid Martín and his devoted assistant Isabella to the page, revealing a multi-layered past Daniel never even knew he had.

Concepts and constructs of authorship, identity, so-called truth, perspectives of good and evil and every grey zone in between, are all here just waiting to be questioned and challenged. Meanwhile, literature literally saves lives, from Great Expectations to The Count of Monte Cristo; the 2013 paperback version of Prisoner includes a “P.S.” section that ends with Zafon’s own eclectic list of “Dead Fellows You Should See and Read Frequently” (from Brontë to Faulkner to Dos Passos!). Yes, each novel stands alone, but when read together, the connections become sublime, even at the price of your own memory (sanity?!); interwoven and overlapping, whose story is reliable, who is even able to speak the truth, who will deceive you once again, prove to be the most daunting mysteries of all. Beyond the body count, go ahead and attempt to figure it all out … at least until the next book comes along and turns all theories to … well … fiction. Superbly done.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004, 2009, 2012, 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, European

The Wall by William Sutcliffe

WallIn an unnamed conflict zone – not unlike the challenging, changing borders of Israel and Palestine – 13-year-old Joshua lives in a new settlement community, Amarias, surrounded by a guarded, barbed-wired wall. Too soon after his father’s violent death, his mother desperately married Joshua’s now-stepfather who considers himself their savior.

During an afternoon of play, Joshua’s new soccer ball goes out of bounds, thanks to a friend who runs off after refusing to retrieve it. In his search, Joshua discovers a hidden tunnel that takes him to the other side of the wall. Chased by a viciously angry mob of older boys, he’s saved by a young girl, Leila, who then helps him return to Amarias. Before they part, she asks him for food.

Back in relative safety, Joshua can’t stop worrying about Leila, struck by how different her life is from his own of plenty and privilege. His determination to repay her help sets off a chain of events that makes Joshua question everything he’s been taught to believe. From borrowed sandals to the tiniest olive tree sapling to the challenges of buying enough aspirin, The Wall presents two communities living right up against each other, yet separated by a seemingly unbreachable divide. One brave young boy attempts to make the great leap …

While The Wall doesn’t name countries, the fictional settlement’s name, Amarias, is an anagram for Samaria, which today refers to the northern part of the West Bank. British novelist William Sutcliffe (who happens to be married to fellow novelist Maggie O’Farrell!) describes himself as a “Jewish atheist.” After his participation at Palfest [Palestine Festival of Literature] in 2010, Sutcliffe told The Guardian in an April 2013 interview, “everything I thought I knew about Israel was shattered. Seeing a military occupation up close, seeing a small number of people with guns telling a large number without guns what to do … it was so much more brutal than I thought it could be.”

Published originally across the Pond with two different covers – one aimed for adult readers, the other for a younger audience – The Wall is an indelible, nuanced portrayal of young lives caught between complicated, opposite ‘sides.’ Sutcliffe offers no easy answers, and leaves a wide berth for plenty of questions. To read his book is to look beyond your own walls, to seek experiences beyond your comfort zone, and be inspired to follow your own moral compass as best as you can.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, British, Middle Eastern

Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng

Southern Cross the DogLet’s start with this fascinating article: “The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don’t” by PolicyMic‘s Gracie Jin – go ahead, take a few minutes to read it.

You’ll see from that giant close-up photo that author Bill Cheng is indeed of Asian ethnicity. He’s Chinese American, in case you were wondering, and was just 29 when his debut novel pubbed last May, a book that follows the lives of African Americans in rural Mississippi during the decades following the Great Flood of 1927.

Mega-award winning author Colum McCann blurbs, “Cheng, almost literally, writes out of his skin.” Ironically, McCann – an Irishman now domiciled in NYC – himself has a reputation for writing beyond his background, but who’s noticing? Indeed, that’s exactly Jin’s premise: “Unfortunately, most reviewers and interviewers seem to care less about the quality of Cheng’s writing than they do about the answers to these questions: Did the Chinese guy get it right? Can an authentic picture of the South come from a man of Asian descent who grew up in Queens? …In a society masquerading as post-racial, it is still only the white man who can speak authoritatively for every man. People of color, on the other hand, are expected to speak only for themselves.” Ouch.

Cheng apparently hadn’t set foot in Mississippi before he went on book tour in the deep South. But that didn’t stop him from creating the absolutely convincing, haunting voice of his African American protagonist, Robert Lee Chatham. Moreover, if you decide to stick the book in your ears, actor Prentice Onayemi will undoubtedly dispel any lingering doubts.

Robert Lee Chatham survives the Great Flood with his parents – his mother already hopelessly damaged by the brutal lynching murder of her older son, his father desperate to save his remaining child – only to be put in the care of a brothel owner. He does the rest of his growing up at the Hotel Beau-Miel, but is again set adrift as a young man. His journey keeps him moving, as a laborer, fugitive, prisoner, friend, and lover; he bears the scars of ingrained prejudice of his violently segregated surroundings, but runs as often from his own demons.

Beyond ethnicity, Southern Cross is a Bildungsroman of epic proportions, rhythmically punctuated by Cheng’s devotion to the blues, “particularly country/delta blues,” he reveals in the publicity letter that accompanied the book. “I thought my first full-length work should be a tribute to that kind of music, those stories, those people.” As if in answer to his ethnic questioners, he adds, “I wanted to capture the sense of a country and people that was unsure of itself, that was tenuous about the future. I think that has some resonance with how I think America is today.”

That said, choose Southern Cross with certainty. The only bottom line you really need to know? It’s a good story, very well-told. Simple as that.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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