Tag Archives: Refugees

How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Anthology edited by the Hmong American Writers’ Circle

How Do I Begin“For any serious artist, it is a terrible feeling of surrender when you realize there is no place in the world for your voice, when all that you express seems marginalized or in vain … But this isn’t a story about defeat. This is about survival.” So begins Burlee Vang‘s compelling introduction to this dynamic anthology of Hmong American prose, poetry, and art.

Founder of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC) which, since 2004,”has served as a forum to discover and foster creative writing within the Hmong community,” Vang explains that artists of Hmong descent are “born into a people whose written language has long been substituted by an oral tradition.” In spite of a substantial cultural history, “there are no novels, plays, or collections of poems, essays, or short stories. There is no account of Hmong life preserved in writing by a Hmong hand and passed down through the centuries.” As newer Asian Pacific Americans whose initial immigration wave happened in the late 1970s into the 1990s, Hmong Americans used English to begin the shift from oral to written literary traditions. “It is exciting to be Hmong these days,” Vang celebrates, “and to finally write. But as pioneers, these are challenging times.”

Vang and 16 other HAWC members explore their Hmong American heritage, each defining his or her own identity as artist, Hmong American, both, neither, other – embracing and eschewing labels and expectations. One writer, Anthony Cody, stands out as the lone non-Hmong (at least not ethnically); a self-defined Mexican American, Cody “attempts to echo the tragedies, routines, and reality of the life I share” among the Hmong American community in their co-hometown of Fresno, California.

Of the 13 prose and poetry writers, Vang – as the leading ‘pioneer’ – has the indisputable standout piece: his short story, “Mrs. Saichue,” about a childless woman who helps her husband find a younger, fertile second wife, elicits comparisons to Ha Jin’s Waiting, in its sharp, spare evocations of small details amidst a difficult situation that create poignant depth and understanding.

Other notable prose pieces include Ka Vang‘s “Pao Dreams of Bodyslams, André the Giant, and Hulk Hogan” about a filial son with untraditional ambitions, and Ying Thao’s “The Art of Fishing,” about the distant relationship between two brothers, one of whom is gay.

Among the poets, Soul Choj Vang‘s works open the collection, giving it its title from “Here I Am,” about a new generation of American poets: “Now, here I am, adopted citizen, / not rooted in this land … How do I begin my song / Where do I enter the chorus / when my part is not yet written …” While many here ponder leaving and belonging, explore history and identity, May Lee-Yang plays with language, as she writes for “Hmong Americans who are bilingual”; her poem, “Endings,” warns of the importance of endings in Hmong words, how a single last letter can turn “Fish … into salt / Horse into human / Sour into penis.”

In addition to text, two fine artists (including Seexeng Lee whose “Hmong Woman Sewing a Paj Ntaub” graces the cover) and a photographer take center page in full color.

As is often the verdict in diverse collections, How Do I Begin is important more as significant literary history than for the quality of its uneven contents. Not surprisingly, the accomplished contributions are mingled with as many amateur pieces. But as the title implies, this is still a beginning, as Hmong American voices continue to develop, intensify, and multiply into this new century.

“There are no infrangible boundaries here. We have persevered through war, persecution, and exile. Through ethnical, cultural, and language barriers,” Vang bears witness. “We have survived the elements, the invisible. We have overcome ourselves. Our writing attests to this. Legitimizes us. After all these centuries, we are still standing.” Dreaming, producing, thriving, too.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Poetry, .Short Stories, Hmong American

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I Am Malala“‘Who is Malala?’” the gunman demanded on that fateful day, October 9, 2012, before he shot three bullets into a bus carrying teenage girls to school. Unable to answer then, Malala answers now in her new memoir for all the world to read: “I am Malala and this is my story.”

Years before she became “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban,” readers may be surprised to learn that Malala was already an international ambassador-in-the-making. Even if the bullet that “went through [her] left eye socket and out under [her] left shoulder” was what put her in the glaring spotlights, her determination to get an education – not only for herself, but for all girls in her village, her country, and beyond – was nurtured early: at 11, she wrote about her life under Taliban control  for BBC Urdu under an assumed name for her safety; at 12, she was featured with her father in a documentary, “Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education,” by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf for The New York Times website; at 14, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated her for KidsRights‘ 2011 International Peace Prize (which she subsequently won in 2013), and Pakistan awarded her the country’s first ever National Peace Prize. On her 16th birthday, following her hard-won recovery, she addressed the United Nations in New York; she became the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Co-written with Christina Lamb, one of the world’s most lauded journalists, I Am Malala is a page-turning revelation. That said, for the most effective experience, choose to go audible. Malala herself reads the “Prologue,” which chronicles that fateful last day in her native Pakistan: “… I left my home for school and never returned.” The British actress, Archie Panjabi, seamlessly takes over as narrator and never falters.

That a 16-year-old’s life can fill a 300-plus page book with so much history, family saga, tragedy, joy, and inspiration, is a remarkable feat. To become such a renowned public figure so young will surely prove to be both a blessing and a challenge. “By giving me this height to reach people, [my Allah] has also given me great responsibilities,” she writes with earnest purpose. “Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country – this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.”

For all that she’s accomplished thus far, what she might/can/will do as a mature adult should include dreams achieved, rights guaranteed, and wishes fulfilled. Here’s to the next spectacular volume of multiple memoirs to come.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Pakistani

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Frangipani Hotel*STARRED REVIEW
What is most haunting in Kupersmith’s nine multi-layered pieces are not the specters, whose tales are revealed as stories within stories, but the lingering loss and disconnect endured by the still living. With an American father and a Vietnamese “former boat refugee” mother, the author channels her bicultural history to create contemporary, post-Vietnam War glimpses of reclamation and reinvention on both sides of East and West.

In “Skin and Bones,” two Houston sisters visit their Ho Chi Minh City grandmother “to rediscover their roots” but more realistically because “Vietnam Was Fat Camp.” In “Guests,” a pair of American expat lovers have diverging expectations. A dying youth tries to steal another’s body in “Little Brother,” and an insistent knock at the door demands retribution 40 years after the war in “One-Finger.” In “Reception,” set in the titular Frangipani Hotel, the clerk’s family’s past overlaps with the coming new brand of the ugly American.

Verdict: The wunderkind moniker will soon enough be attached to the 1989-born Kupersmith, who wrote most of these stories as a Mt. Holyoke undergraduate. Her mature-beyond-her-years debut deserves equal shelf space with other spare, provocative collections, such as Paul Yoon’s Once the Shore, Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds, and Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, January 1, 2014

Readers: Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Hapa, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American, Vietnamese, Vietnamese American

Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien

Dogs at the PerimeterAbove all else, Janie is a survivor. She escaped the horrifying deaths that took her entire family in her native Cambodia. She’s outlived her adoptive Canadian mother who passed away just last year. She’s built a fulfilling career as a scientist specializing in brain research. She’s the wife of a kind, gentle husband, and the mother to an adorable 7-year-old boy whose name in Khmer means “mountain.”

And then her colleague and good friend Hiroji disappears without warning – literally just walks out of his own life. And, Janie, too, begins to unravel as she can no longer contain the haunting memories of her never-faded past. Janie knows of Hiroji’s connections to her native country: his older brother James left Canada in 1970 to work as a Red Cross doctor for the victims of that heinous war, married a local woman, then just vanished. Hiroji’s repeated journeys produced no answers about his brother’s fate.

Now decades later, Janie realizes Hiroji’s need to finally know what happened has catapulted him from all that is comfortable and familiar; she knows that she, too, must do the same and confront her brutal past in order that she might reclaim her uncertain future. Both have lost a father, mother, brother. Both will need to face long suppressed memories literally trapped in their brains with which they are both so scientifically familiar, yet so emotionally detached.

In breathtaking elliptical prose that suggests more than it divulges, Madeleine Thien presents a tragic history in search of hope. Connecting elusive glimpses with disappeared moments and fractured pieces, Dogs at the Perimeter proves to be an exquisite story of redemption and recovery.

An award-winning Canadian writer of Malaysian and Chinese descent, Thien’s first two titles – her novel Certainty and short story collection Simple Recipes – found U.S. publishers after their Canadian debuts. Ironically (sadly), Dogs pubbed in Canada then in the U.K. (from highbrow Granta Books) to excellent reviews, but has yet to find an American home south of the border. U.S. publishers, take note: surely it’s time to move these Dogs at the Perimeter into the spotlight.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011 (Canada), 2012 (UK)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Cambodian, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

One Step at a Time : A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

One Step at a TimeIntroduced to U.S. readers by award-winning Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch in last year’s Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War, Son Thi Ahn Tuyet’s story continues – literally one step at a time. Now that Tuyet has a real home with her own real family – Dad, Mom, sisters Beth and Lara, and baby brother Aaron – she’s learning to finally feel safe. Nighttime still remains a bit scary when memories of war and tragedy return to haunt her dreams; no matter how nice her own room is, for now, Tuyet prefers to sleep safely “burrowed into her nest of pillows and covers on the throw rug between Beth and Lara’s beds.”

In addition to adapting to her new family and struggling to understand a culture so different from the one she left in a language she hasn’t yet learned, Tuyet prepares for some of the greatest physical challenges of her young life. The beautiful new red shoe and soft red slipper Mom bought for her polio-damaged feet and legs have already filled Tuyet’s heart with joyful smiles. Now Tuyet faces the first of multiple operations that will someday allow her to walk. In the 1970s, hospital rules did not allow for constant parental interaction as is today’s accepted norm; remarkably, Tuyet endured her surgeries virtually alone.

Thankfully, recovery proved to a full family affair: the whole Morris family not only made Tuyet physically comfortable, but each ensured that she was emotionally buoyed as well. From learning to blow out birthday “fire” and realizing that the beautiful wrapping paper is meant to be torn, to not grabbing her baby brother and seeking shelter at the sound of an airplane, to being able to balance well enough on her own two legs to kick a soccer ball, Tuyet takes her new life – and her steadily recovering legs – one glorious, triumphant step at a time.

“Thank you, Tuyet,” Skrypuch writes in her ending “Author’s Note,” “for allowing me to share your story.” Readers, too – especially younger readers who might be facing any sort of adversity – will surely appreciate Tuyet’s inspiring experiences. Step by step, Skrypuch shows with forthright clarity how Tuyet becomes her own very best hero.

Tidbit: Here’s an update (with pictures!) from Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch herself!

Last year, Last Airlift won the Red Cedar award in British Columbia and was a [2013] Red Maple Honour Book in Ontario. These awards are readers’ choice awards, where kids do the voting. For the Red Maple award, the Ontario Library Association hosts a huge event at Harbourfront in Toronto, with thousands of kids bussed in. I arranged for Tuyet to stand on the stage with me, and for her daughter to hold the sign and her son to introduce the book. We had long snaking line-ups for autographs, and many of the kids wanted Bria and Luke to sign their books in addition to me and Tuyet signing them. I’ve got some photos on my website. Check it out here:
♦   Last Airlift signing with Tuyet and her kids
♦   Red Maple Day at Harbourfront
♦   Tuyet and Red Maple Day

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American, Vietnamese American

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Burgess BoysSmall-town Maine, where Elizabeth Strout was born and raised, has been home to her four novels. In her first title since she won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for her novel-in-13-stories, Olive Kitteridge, Strout returns to tiny Shirley Falls where she set her acclaimed, chilling debut, Amy and Isabelle. This time, in The Burgess Boys, she brings the whole wide world to the isolated mill town, from ex-residents who never intended to go ‘home,’ to refugee transplants who long to return to people and places that no longer exist, to the ubiquitous media with their imposing, exposing cameras that send the worst of Shirley Falls around the globe.

As soon as they were able, the Burgess boys left Maine, both becoming lawyers who landed in Brooklyn. Jim, the eldest, became a celebrity corporate attorney and lives a lavish lifestyle with his old money trophy wife and their almost-grown children. Bob also chose the law, but most of his Legal Aid clients can’t afford to pay him; his ex-wife remains his best friend, although she left him for a Park Avenue life with a new husband who could give her the children she desperately needed. Bob’s acerbic twin, Susan, is the only Burgess who stayed Shirley Falls-bound, solo-parenting a quiet teenage son, Zach, after her husband abandoned the family to move to ‘real’ Sweden after growing up in New Sweden, Maine.

Lonely, isolated, friendless, Zach’s done something terrible: a pig’s head, a mosque, Ramadan. Susan hysterically calls her brothers home. For the first time in decades, the Burgess siblings are forced together to face not only the charges threatening Zach’s entire future, but their own troubled relationships with each other, as well as their long-dead parents – a father killed too young in a horrible accident, and a mother whose bitterness poisoned them all. In spite of Zach’s heinous act, Strout avoids absolutes, moving fluidly between condemnation and empathy by adding diverse community voices, including a devout Somali storeowner who witnessed his son’s brutal murder, a twice-divorced Unitarian minister, and an elderly lodger in Susan’s home who has listened for years to Zach’s loud music … and his tears alone at night.

The single extraneous voice appears in the “Prologue” and then disappears: an unnamed Shirley Falls transplant to New York explains how she came to “‘write the story of the Burgess kids’” – those opening five pages wouldn’t be missed. And since I’m quibbling, might I add a quick warning that what ubiquitous narrator Cassandra Campbell (hard to pick up a book without getting her stuck in your ears) thinks are regional and international flourishes will just need to be ignored. Thankfully, Strout’s words are stronger than Campbell’s grating accents. By book’s end, what you’ll remember most are the challenges, negotiations, joys, acceptances, and renewals of the remarkably resilient bonds that make up family.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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

Paris Was the Place by Susan Conley

Paris Was the PlaceIn Susan Conley’s debut novel defined by deep relationships, the most intriguing alliances get neglected and overlooked for the more commonplace and predictable. Willow – called Willie – moves to Paris to be closer to her peripatetic brother Luke who was most recently in China bringing safe water to far-flung villages, but has settled in the City of Light for love. Their mother passed away a year earlier, and for Willie who is estranged from their once-philandering-now-reborn-Christian father back in Northern California, Luke is her only constant family.

Poetry professor by day, Willie volunteers at night to teach English to refugee girls held at an asylum center while awaiting their immigration hearings. Her students are too-young survivors of violence and tragedy, and Willie finds herself becoming especially attached to Gita who seeks immediate safety from her local rapist brother-in-law, and hopes to be saved from child marriage to a much older groom in her native India. At the center, Willie finds herself ever hopeful of crossing paths with the girls’ lawyer Macon (named so by his American South loving French mother and Estonian father by way of Canada).

Go ahead and take a few guesses as to what will unfold: we’re talking a gay brother in the 1980s, a “funny man with hiking boots” who makes Willie’s stomach do flips, and a pair of deserting parents (the avoided living father, the longed-after missing mother). Over almost 400 pages – or more than 14.5 hours stuck in the ears (narrator Cassandra Campbell clearly enjoys exaggerating her French accents) – Willie succumbs to an awful lot of navel-gazing as her brother weakens, her lover beckons, and her father flees (again).

A redistribution of self-absorption to beyond-the-comfort-zone exploration – about 75%/25% here – would have been a vast narrative improvement. Repetitive street names and places (more than a dozen references to Avenue Victor Hugo alone!) were also unnecessary – it’s a novel, not a walking tour. Verdict? By condensing Willie’s myopic tendencies in favor of further developing the lives of her refugee students, Conley undoubtedly could have written a more provocative, captivating story only hinted at here.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, European, Nonethnic-specific, South Asian

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall DownI admit I had a few false starts before I finally settled into Patricia McCormick‘s latest, which was a 2012 National Book Award finalist for Young People’s Literature. Based on the horrifying experiences of Cambodian activist/humanitarian Arn Chorn-Pond‘s childhood survival during the brutal Khmer Rouge control of his native country, McCormick “wrote his story as a novel.” She explains in her ending “Author’s Note,” “Like all trauma survivors, Arn can recall certain experiences in chilling detail; others he can tell only in vague generalities. … So I added to his recollections with my own research – and my own imagination – to fill in the missing pieces. The truth, I believe, is right there between the lines.”

With such careful creation, why did I need three attempts to finally finish? On the page, the sentences read jarringly in broken English; in the ears, the effect is even more pronounced as Ramon de Ocampo narrates in an initially grating, undefinable, pseudo-Asian accent. Might I (highly) recommend skipping forward to that ending “Author’s Note”: McCormick clarifies, “Trying to capture [Arn's] voice was like trying to bottle a lightning bug. Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the lights went out. And so, in telling Arn’s story I chose to use his own distinct and beautiful voice.” That explanation sent me searching for that voice … and I found this video of writer and subject together. Their interaction convinced me I absolutely needed to finish the book: all frustration and hesitation disappeared by the final page.

In a devastating world tragedy that took the lives of almost a quarter of a country’s entire population, Arn witnesses the most heinous crimes and tragedies; he is just 11 when the Khmer Rouge begins the devastation of Cambodia. He loses most of his family, his friends, his hopes, his beliefs. He’s forced to commit indescribable acts as a child soldier, numbing his heart and mind in order to live to the next day. Miraculously, he reclaims his own humanity to become an outspoken champion of the world.

McCormick has built her lauded literary reputation on giving voice to young people facing the most challenging circumstances – from addiction to slavery to war to genocide (her first National Book Award finalistSold, is revelatory). McCormick’s next title – her first co-writing credit – is due out in August 2014, and is already making headlines: I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the WorldSight unseen, I’m already practicing chants of ‘NBA, all the way.’

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Memoir, Cambodian, Cambodian American, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Sweetness in the BellyRaised as a Roman Catholic convinced of at least one past life as a Jewish grandmother, I find myself in my old age utterly wary of institutionalized religions, repeatedly alarmed at what we human beings commit upon one another in the name of various (one-and-only) gods. In our post-9/11 era of heightened intolerance, this quote from British-born, Canadian-domiciled author Camilla Gibb‘s Sweetness struck me as especially sane: “My religion is full of color and possibility and choice; it’s a moderate interpretation … one that allows you to use whatever means allow you to feel closer to God … It’s an interpretation where … one’s personal struggle [is] to be a good Muslim, not a fight against those who are not Muslim.” Replace “Muslim” with any other religion, and it still remains a rational, caring, open-minded statement … oh, if only we could all be so accepting.

Meet Lilly, a white Muslim, “born in Yugoslavia, breast-fed in the Ukraine, weaned in Corsica, freed from nappies in Sicily and walking by the time we got to the Algarve.” The only child of “two solitary renegades who’d met at Trinity College Dublin in the 1950s,” Lilly’s early life was rootless: “‘You don’t want to spoil the journey by missing what you’ve left and worrying about where you’re going,’” her parents insisted. When Lilly is orphaned at 8, the rest of her upbringing continues in a Sufi shrine “on the Moroccan edge of the Sahara,” quietly educated and nurtured under the guidance of the Qur’an and the Great Abdal.

At 16, Lilly is sent on pilgrimage to Harar, Ethiopia, where her gender does not allow her access to the intended sheikh’s home and she is instead thrust upon an impoverished, angry mother of young children. Eventually Lilly’s open teachings of the Qua’ran earn her both students and respect – for awhile – as well as the attention of a young local doctor.

By 1974 when the Derg overthrows Emperor Selassie and plunges the country into tragic violence, Lilly flees for an unfamiliar ‘home.’ With her cultural fluidity and linguistic efficiency, she works as a hospital nurse in a London hospital that serves the city’s downtrodden. She creates a family-of-sorts with Amina, a single mother – also from Harar – and her children, the youngest of whom Lilly helps delivers in an alley. Together the two women form a community organization that helps incoming refugees reunite with their families. “Our work is not as altruistic as it sounds,” Lilly admits. Amina awaits news of her missing husband; Lilly of her good Dr. Aziz.

For Gibb, Sweetness was 16 years in the making, including two years spent living in Harar while finishing her Oxford PhD in social anthropology. A university friendship with a young Ethiopian woman who arrived in Toronto as a refugee was Gibb’s initial inspiration for the novel; “this book is my attempt to understand” her friend’s experience of dislocation, of feeling “like a ghost” that first year of escape and arrival. Seamlessly moving between two decades, two countries, and multiple cultures, Gibb presents a jarring, difficult story with empathetic grace, carefully sifting through what we hang onto and what we must let go in order to do more than just survive, to somehow become whole.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, African, British, Canadian

The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco

Keeping Quilt and Blessing Cup

Although published a quarter century apart, these are two books that tell a single tears-of-joy-inducing family story. If chronology is important, you might read Patricia Polacco‘s multi-generational family epic out of publication order – that is, Blessing Cup (out this year) first, and then Keeping Quilt (which debuted in 1988, and reappeared this year in an updated, 25th anniversary edition). The former begins with Polacco’s great-grandmother Anna’s life “long before she came to America,” and the latter continues with “When … Anna came to America.”

As a little girl, Anna lived in a Jewish Russian village that was often at the mercy of cruel soldiers. Every week in celebrating Shabbat, Anna’s mother pulled out a remarkable wedding gift tea set: “The tea set is magic,” the giver wrote. “Anyone who drinks from it has a blessing from God. They will never know a day of hunger. Their lives will always have flavor. They will know love and joy … and they will never be poor.” Because the family would always have each other …

When the czar violently ousts Jews from Russia, Anna’s family’s difficult journey to safety is buffeted by the magic of the tea set. When Papa falls seriously ill, a kind doctor shelters and feeds the family, and even makes their escape to America possible. In gratitude, Mama leaves the good doctor her tea set, with the exception of a single cup “so that we can still have its blessing.” And so that Blessing Cup begins a new life in a new land, passed on from generation to generation to generation …

The Keeping Quilt is born in the new country, made of the memories of the old. As Anna quickly grows into her new American life, “[t]he only things she had left of backhome Russia were her dress and babushka.” Anna’s mother gathers all that’s been outgrown and creates a quilt: “‘It will be like having the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night.’” And so the Keeping Quilt becomes an integral part of Anna’s family’s life: it serves as the Shabbat tablecloth, the picnic spread on which Anna agrees to marry Great-Grandpa Sasha, the huppa at many weddings, the warm blanket for each new baby and every elder in old age. As generations pass, the Keeping Quilt, too, grows fragile … but Polacco’s children find a way to lovingly give it new life.

As inspiring as Polacco’s stories are, her exquisite art imbues her words with mesmeric meaning. Using a base of mostly black-and-white pencil sketches, Polacco enhances each scene with splendid, specific splashes of vibrant color – the dancing cut-outs of the Keeping Quilt, the precious details of the Blessing Cup, the spirited backhome babushka, the fine Persian rug that saves four lives, the glowing fire that warms and the sweeping fires that destroy. Polacco’s pictures add the proverbial thousand words to each page as she captures the changing generations, from her orthodox ancestors, to her parents’ non-Jewish wedding guests, to her daughter’s commitment ceremony. Her family’s story is also America’s story – the changing faces, the unforgettable memories, and the unbreakable traditions that bind us all together. L’chaim indeed.

Readers: Children

Published: 1988, 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Jewish, Russian