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[personal profile] yatima
Believe the hype. This is the best book of poetry I have read in years, dense with precisely described emotion. It reminded me of the first time I read Plath's Ariel:

a piano—but a mare
draped in a black sheet. White mouth
sticking out like a fist. I kneel
at my beast. The sheet sunken
at her ribs.

A side-note: in my Honours English class back in nineteen ninety-mumble, our great professor Bruce Gardiner wasted most of a tutorial trying to get me and the rest of my virginal cohort to understand Yeats "The Song of the Wandering Aengus" as the poet going outside at night for a wank. One of Vuong's poems here is helpfully titled "Ode to Masturbation," which should save many graduate student hours.
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
I've been recommending this book to friends recently and realized I never posted my review of it here. It's a mimetic/realistic fiction novel set in modern-day Bangalore, with two main plot threads: a guy who wants to expand his business honestly but faces the impossibility of doing so without bribing creeps, and a servant in his house who walks multiple figurative tightropes to maintain some sliver of personal autonomy and keep her son from falling in with creeps.

I'd previously read Sankaran's short story collection The Red Carpet, which I also recommend. (I picked it up in the Manhattan public library when I was looking for Dorothy Sayers and saw Sankaran's book near Sayers alphabetically. Most English-language Indian fiction isn't about Bangalore, so this is an ultra-specific YES YES SO RIGHT YES. Sankaran hooked me a few pages in by using the Kannada/English slang "one-thaara" ("a kind/type of"), which I'd never seen written down before. The title story is so sweet! I see [personal profile] rydra_wong also liked it and [livejournal.com profile] glitter_femme liked it too.)

I loved The Hope Factory -- what a specifically Bangalore story, getting the texture of class, gender, and location so right. (I wonder whether the flashback chapter about one protagonist's day laborer past would work as a standalone story; it sure has a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I will remember for a long time.) I honestly do not know whether I should recommend this book to non-Indians or even desis who are not Karnatakan or Kannadiga, whether it will sparkle quite as bright to people who have never been to that particular dosa restaurant, who don't think "wait I think I have relatives in that square mile of Mysore." But if you're looking for an English-language novel set in modern-day Bangalore, spanning rich and poor, family and business and politics, check this out.
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Book 7
Title: 蟲と眼球とテディベア| Bug, Eyeball, Teddybear
Author: 日日日
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Language: Japanese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy
Summary: The ordinary life of a teacher and his student lover is abruptly interrupted by a girl who uses a spoon as a weapon. Then three of them are involved in an incident surrounding "The apple of God"
Review: As the beginning of a fantasy series, this novel captures my attention with its fast rhythm and intriguing mystery. I'll follow the series.
Link to Amazon.co.jp

Book 8
Title: ジョニー・ザ・ラビット|Johnny Love Rabbit
Author: 東山彰良
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Language: Japanese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy Noir
Summary: "You should aim to be sahara if you are a flower; you should aim to be Johnny if you are a man."

  “Love is playing Italian folk song while holding a gun."
  "Love,the petrol to let me to be Johnny Rabbit,LOVE,my middle name that I 'll never regret.”

  Go! Johnny! Go! Go!
  What's love? What's pride? What's life?

Rabbit and hardboiled fiction seem to be two path that should never meet, but the author successfully creates Johnny Rabbit, who's a totally a hardboiled PI, a knight who walks on a mean street and a complete rabbit. It makes the story insightful. It has a bitter sense of humour, and a story that's among the good of noir.
Link to Amazon.co.jp

snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Sailor Mercury)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Ghost Hunt  vol. 1
Author: Fuyumi Ono
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Amazon summary: Meet the members of the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre - an agency specialising in the investigation of paranormal activity...

Review: The beginning of the book is a bit slow, as it's mostly set up, but when I continue I'm hooked by the banter, the comedy and the solid mystery. I think I'll continue reading the series.

Link to Amazon

snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Math Girls
Author: Hiroshi Yuki
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Math

Amazon summary: Combining mathematical rigor with light romance, Math Girls is a unique introduction to advanced mathematics, delivered through the eyes of three students as they learn to deal with problems seldom found in textbooks. Math Girls has something for everyone, from advanced high school students to math majors and educators.

Review: To be honest, I don't like additional maths such as calculus but it's recced to me because of fascinating female characters. It delivers maths, which I have mixed feeling about because of my own limitation and interesting female characters, which I just hope I can skip the middle man of the narrator to see more about their interaction. I''ll be looking forward to the sequel though.
Link: Math Girls on Amazon

[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
13. Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East

I love travel books, and this is a fantastic one. Iyer visits several Asian countries (including India, China, Tibet, Burma, the Philippines, Bali, Thailand, Hong Kong, and probably a few more I'm forgetting) with the goal of seeing how they've been affected by Western pop culture and tourism. Iyer is quite good at describing places, and seems to have really made the effort to get to know local people and include their viewpoints.

This book is a bit out-of-date now (it was written in the early 80s), but to me that just added to the appeal. This is a China and Tibet newly opened to Westerners, a Hong Kong which is still a colony, Burma before it was Myanmar. So many of the places he visits no longer exist- at least, not as they did at the time- that it makes for an intriguing historical snapshot.

Iyer uses the 'Modern, Masculine West meets Traditional, Feminine East! However Will They Understand One Another?' trope a bit too much for my tastes, but you could easily skim those parts and focus on the descriptions of places and people, which are quite well-written. Recommended, and I'd love recs for other travel books, if you have a favorite!
[identity profile] alankria.livejournal.com
After reading Vandana Singh's story "Oblivion: A Journey" - aka the Ramayana IN SPAAAACE - in Clockwork Phoenix 1, I wanted her short story collection. It doesn't reprint that story, but offers ten others.

The stories range widely in genre, from "Conservation Laws", a story-within-a-story about a mission on Mars that took a strange turn, to the not-quite-everyday "Hunger" and "The Wife", to the wonderful "Three Tales from Sky River", a collection of far-future folklore of settlements on other worlds, and "Infinities", a story of advanced mathematics and real-world religious tensions.

"Delhi", one of my favourites is about a man who glimpses the past and future of Delhi, who sees a woman he's been given a picture of from a strange organisation that stops suicides by offering them an unusual reason to live in these pictures of individuals they must try to meet. He tries to find out whether he can interfere in the events and lives he glimpses - especially the mysterious woman's. Not all of it is resolved by the end. If only Singh would write a novel that starts with "Delhi" and keeps going!

The language is often beautiful, sometimes strange. I wish I had my copy with me so I could quote extensively; the only line I copied was: The apartment, with its plump sofas like sleeping walruses... (The second sentence of "Hunger".) Singh evokes her settings, usually India, such that they feel real, with all the attendant complexity, beauty and harshness, and so on.

Singh clearly loves India, loves writing about it and its people, while engaging critically with its expectations of women. In "The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet", Kamala's husband, Ramnath, is concerned with the way her planetary state makes her act in public, almost more than he's concerned about her mental health. Towards the end, when events have turned quite fantastical, a judge taps Ramnath on the shoulder and tells him how reprehensible this is. It's probably more surreal than what Kamala is doing. In "The Tetrahedron", Maya develops a relationship with an interesting young man, based on discussion of the tetrahedron, and realises that she really doesn't want to follow the path already laid out for her: newly acquired fiance who doesn't especially like or understand her. In the appropriately titled "Thirst", Susheela is drawn to the water, away from her married life. The mysterious woman Urmila in "The Room on the Roof" is bitter that her friend Renuka, formerly a skilled sculptress, is now content to only inspire her husband; events later take a sinister turn. And so on.

Ian McDonald may fill his books with "exotic" detail, but Vandana Singh's India is the one I want to read about. Her work is intelligent, interesting and, above all, real - even when it's about a woman-naga or a mysteriously appearing alien shape.

This is one of the best books I've read recently. Highly recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
6. Paula Yoo, Good Enough

Patti is a Korean-American high school student who plays classical violin but has a secret obsession with boy band Jet Pack. Her parents expect her to study hard, go to her church youth group, and not date, but she's interested in new student Ben Wheeler, who teaches her about groups like the Clash and encourages her to apply to Julliard instead of HarvardYalePrinceton. I really enjoyed both Patti's problems and their resolution; it felt very true to me. Just as a personal note, I always love it when I find a well-written intelligent character, and Patti very much is. Many books will tell the reader that a character is smart, but it's rare for me to find one that can actually show it.

This isn't a deep book, but it's fun and engaging. It had some very funny parts, particularly the silly chapter titles (like "How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy") and spam recipes (which, uh, actually sounded really tasty, and I hate spam). A great read for when you want something light but enjoyable.
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
What we have today is a selection of not very good reviews. Why? Because I'm moving into an apartment that's half the size of my current place. That means that some stuff has got to go. So I'd thought I'd do these reviews before I got rid of the books.

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe )

Waiting for Rain by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay )

All I Asking for is My Body by Milton Murayama )

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan )
[identity profile] alankria.livejournal.com
This is another book I picked up in KL, as its back cover copy made it sound like an interesting novel about a woman who takes over a shipping business alongside stories of voyages around Malaysia.

It is occasionally about the first thing.

While, yes, Wefada Marwan is put in charge of her family's business after a succession of accidental deaths, the novel only shows her actually taking charge on pages 110-122 and 169-185, with a few smaller portions dedicated to her anxiety over the large responsibility. In those two chunks, she's shown to be a capable woman who patches up a bad family-business relationship and firmly tells a non-profitable arm of the company that they need to shape up.

The majority of the novel is about the various members of Wefada's family, by blood or by marriage: how they met, how they fell in love (her views on her second husband are followed, a chapter later, by his views on her, sometimes showing two halves of the same scene), how they died or found out about a death, how they suffered, how they dealt with business problems (Wefada narrates that her brother Waqeel made a mistake, and a chapter later there's a flashback to his decision-making leading up to that mistake, and towards the end there's a flashback to the involvement of her uncle). It's quite dull, especially the repetitiveness. Wefada is the only character that I really cared about, but even she's not especially compelling; I liked her uncle, too, but he only gets one scene. The "Stories of voyages in the brilliant era of the Malay-Muslim civilisation" mentioned on the back never materialise.

I did find the characters' faith (Islam) interesting, in the way it affects their decisions and plays an integral role in their lives - largely, I suspect, because I rarely read books about Muslim characters. Especially attention-grabbing is the integration of Islamic practices into economics, as championed by Wefada - Islamic law forbidding interest came up a lot - but this, frustratingly, is usually skimmed over. The rest of the economics (and there's a fair bit of it) is basic, high school level stuff, that I enjoyed only in the way it reminded me of things I already knew. The people discussing it are a renowned Professor and successful businessmen, so the simplicity of their crowd-pleasing arguments is a bit ridiculous. The only other bits I liked were snippets of Malaysian boat-building history and the page about Wefada's belief that Alexander the Great visited Malaysia. The rest, I found boring.

On a line level, the book is riddled with typos, especially concerning the placement of speech-marks, and there are no breaks when the scene jumps across time and country and character-focus.

And, come the end of the novel, I realised it doesn't even possess a narrative arc. Through jumping about, it's shown Wefada just begin to take over the company, alongside various other characters' histories and relationships (and it explains a couple of family mysteries, but only for the reader's benefit; Wefada never learns the truth), and ends without even resolving whether a certain character has just died. (Perhaps the final pages are a metaphor for his survival, perhaps we're meant to assume he died because people on ships captured by pirates are often shot - who knows!) It's as if the author was told, You have x pages to fill, and on getting close to the final page, panicked, wrote in some waffle about the soul of the titular ship, and that was that.
[identity profile] alankria.livejournal.com
I'm actually going to start logging and reviewing these, albeit sporadically - I'm travelling now and will be unemployed on my return, so I doubt I'll get to 50 in the next 12 months. On the other hand, I'm travelling through Asia so the books I buy are reasonably often by POC and some will be less known. I'll go back and review some recently read ones, too, as I want to pimp them.

I heard of Shirley Lim's Princess Shawl, a children's book set in Singapore and historical Malaysia, from Nurul Huda's article, "The Heroic Journey in Shirley Lim’s Princess Shawl" published recently in Cabinet des Fees, and soon afterwards I visited Malaysia so looked out for it in KL's bookstores.

The book cover description:
Mei Li inherits a shawl from a grand-aunt she doesn't know, which whisks her to historical times and places. Before she turns ten in two weeks, she must rescue the Chinese princess, Li Po, from the barren island where the wicked bomoh has exiled her. Mei Li meets women in Singapore, Cameron Highlands and Malacca who teach her about courage, running, trust and skills such as cooking, nursing, and climbing mountains. With the help of a magic hairpin, of special rouge and of water that can bring you home, she succeeds in uniting the Princess with the brace Sultan Mansur.

It's hard for me to review this because I don't read books aimed at such young children. The plot moved quickly, without the kind of depth and consideration I prefer, but that's intentional. I had a lot of fun reading it, though. Mei Li is a brave, determined heroine - while adult gifts and lessons are essential to her success, her own achievements are equally essential and impressive. The historical periods she passes through are not especially fleshed out, but the focus is more on Mei Li's interactions with her ancestors. These are quite interesting. Nenek talks to her about the arts of Nyonya (Straits-born Chinese) women. The Buddhist abbess Poh Li has turned her temple into a hospital and treats Malay, Chinese, Arab, Dutch and Portuguese battle-injured indiscriminately, and requires Mei Li to help. My major disappointment was the encounter with the bomoh, which lacked the degree of confrontation I'd have liked. I also found the depiction of true love quite silly.

I suspect I'd have really enjoyed this book as a girl, back when my age was also a single number, and definitely recommend it for anyone with kids at that kind of age (or those who, unlike me, don't mostly stick to adult-targeted lit). It's got adventure, time travel to interesting places, and a brave girl-heroine. Annoyingly, I think it's going to be hard to acquire outside Malaysia and Singapore (or SE Asian countries with a Kinokuniya). It's published by Maya Press, ISBN 978-983-2737-43-8.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
47. Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others

A book of science fiction short stories, but in focusing on more actual science (math, physics, linguistics) and less space ships and laser guns. In a lot of Chiang's stories, a scientific principle or observation becomes a metaphor for something about life: the possibility (or impossibility) of dividing by zero is about a relationship; the angle at which light hits water is about free will and motherhood; lesions in the brain are about the concept of beauty. My favorite two stories are 'The Tower of Babylon' (BRONZE AGE SCIENCE FICTION OMG), which takes the concept of the tower of Babel and looks at what it would be like it people could actually build a tower to heaven, and 'Understand', which is a bit like 'Flowers for Algernon' with a twist: a regular guy becomes incredibly smart due to medical intervention. It's extremely rare to find well-written smart characters, but Chiang does it beautifully. There are several stories where Chiang takes seriously past scientific paradigms, like in 'The Tower of Babylon', which assumes that there actually are a celestial spheres, or another story about Victorian theories of evolution and reproduction.

I really enjoyed these stories. I'm not a big fan of science-fiction in general, but Chiang's style is just awesome.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
44. Jeniffer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

A pop non-fiction book covering pretty much every possible topic related to Chinese food in America. There are chapters on the origins of American-Chinese dishes (fortune cookies, chop suey, General Tso's chicken), a history of Chinese immigration to America, the risks taken by deliverymen (including a horrifying story of a deliveryman who got trapped in an elevator for several days, which I took the opportunity to retell when I was briefly stuck in an elevator myself last week, possibly terrifying the people stuck with me), the story of a family who buys a Chinese restaurant, people who have won the lottery using numbers from fortune cookies, and others. I think my favorite chapter was the one where Lee sets out to find the best Chinese restaurant in the world, outside of China itself.

Overall, this is a light, fun read. I have no idea how the book actually originated, but it reads a lot like Lee (who is a journalist) found some vaguely-related articles and reworked them into a book. Which is not necessarily a flaw; it makes for a very breezy book, which is sometimes what I'm in the mood for.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
38. Malinda Lo, Ash

A YA novel retelling the Cinderella story, but with a twist: Cinderella falls in love with a woman instead of Prince Charming. I've been excited for this book ever since I first heard about it: retelling of a fairy tale! Chinese-American author! YA lesbians! I love all these things. Also, the book has an absolutely gorgeous cover.

I'd somehow gotten the impression that this was the Chinese version of Cinderella, and so was a bit disappointed to find that instead the setting is a fairly generic Medieval-ish Europe. However, Lo does do some very interesting things with the setting, particularly in changing the Fairy Godmother to an elf (and not a nice elf, the Tam Lin and changelings and Childe Rowland kind of elf). Ash's relationship with the elves and magic- constantly drawn in but never quite able to entirely leave our world- was well-written and fascinating. I also really liked the repeated use of telling fairy tales as a way for characters to communicate.

I do wish that there had been more about Ash's relationship with Kaisa, but for what little there was, it was extremely well-written, subtle but vivid. There's not much detail given of people's reactions to the relationship, but it appears to be set in one of those worlds were being gay or lesbian is unremarkable. Certainly, there's no mention of a backlash to them, and Ash doesn't go through any sort of sexual identity crisis. I also wish the book had been longer! There was a lot more about these characters and world that I would have liked to know. But overall, very recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
36. Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker.

A classic novel of Japanese literature, this book was cited as one of the reasons the author won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1968. The plot concerns a small hot-spring town in the mountains. A rich, lazy young man comes to visit several times over the course of a year or two, carrying on a relationship with a local geisha who is in love with him. The book has lots of very beautiful descriptions of landscapes- mountains in snow, fall leaves on the trees, bugs dying against a window in the summer; the translator even compares the novel to haiku- but not much plot. There are a lot of conversations where no one quite says what they mean, and most of the important developments take place in the subtext. That's interesting in some ways, but it's also very distancing, and I never felt very attached to the characters. On the other hand, this is a very short book, so if you want to try out a famous Japanese novel, it's definitely an easy read.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
34. Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix

A YA fantasy novel set in a world based on Chinese legends and history, the plot concerns Ai Ling's search for her father, teaming up with some people she meets on her travels, and finding out about her special destiny. I really enjoyed the vast, vast number of monsters and other supernatural creatures Ai Ling has encounters with; there was always another legend or story popping up, and that felt very fun to me. I also agree with many other reviewers who have said that all the eating scenes in this book are fantastic, and make you hungry. Totally true! Although it made me realize that most fantasies a) don't show the characters eating very often, and b) when they are, it's usually "stew". Or occasionally "bread and cheese". A little description goes a long way, authors!

On the other hand, I felt like the writing was a little flat, and that really prevented me from getting into the story as much as I might have otherwise. Still, a very fun read overall, and I'm looking forward to more books by the author.


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