This book hurt to read. It is the story of Finch and Violet, who meet on the top of the bell tower at school when one of them saves the other one’s life. From there, its a love story. But, it’s also a story about dealing with tragedy and with things that have happened to you. It is also a book about mental illness and suicide. The writing is great. Finch is charming and Violet is awesome. The romance is precious. I’m glad I read it. Behind the cut is spoiler city.
So, this is the story of Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Gibreel is India’s biggest movie star and Saladin is an expatriate who has just been to India for the first time is fifteen years. They are on a hijacked airplane that explodes over the English channel. The two of them plummet to Earth and the novel builds from there as a series of dreams and strange transformations. They are the only two survivors of the incident. Gibreel and Saladin’s story serves as a frame for a bunch of smaller stories that all intersect and overlap with the main narrative. Gibreel’s story overlaps with the story of Muhammed. Yes, that Muhammed. There is an alleged incident in which Muhammed heard an angel whisper some verses that were meant to be included in the Quran, but that he later recanted because the verses did not come from the angel on Allah’s behalf but from Shaitan, the adversary. Yes, this is the book the caused all the controversy and had Rushdie in hiding for years because of a fatwa against him. I feel like here is where I should say something about freedom of speech and blasphemy laws, but I don’t think that there is anything that I could say that hasn’t already said better. Rushdie is exploring something in this novel, Muhammed’s life, that he should be free to explore without fear of death.
There were many things I enjoyed about this book. The story is clever and there are many really neat parallels between the sub-plots and the main plot. I like magical realism and enjoyed the bizarre parts of the novel. Rushdie tackles some pretty big themes like racism and migration in the text and he does it well. But, I think this might be another book that is a victim of its own hype? It has caused so much scandal (and is still banned places because of its blasphemous text about the Prophet). I was expecting to be wowed beyond belief but I wasn’t. This was a good novel, and its complex narrative with all the subplots make it a really rich and engrossing read. But, it left me cold and I wasn’t so involved in it that I couldn’t have put it down. So, it was good and I recommend it. But, it won’t be making my Top 10 this year.
The audible production is read by Sam Dastor and he did an excellent job. Because the narrative moves in and out of the main story and the sub-stories (and because there are characters who have similar names), I think I was saved a little potential confusion because each character had their own voice. That being said, there were sections I had to re-listen to because there was just so much detail and the text was so rich that I needed more than one pass to absorb it.
There was a time in my life when I almost exclusively read literary fiction. This is obviously not that time and so I’m both a little surprised and thrilled that the Asian Lit Bingo challenge got me to read two works of literary fiction in (a little more than) a month. Rainbirds was the second of these novels. It is set in Japan and follows Ren Ishida as he goes to the small city of Akakawa to take care of his sister’s affairs following her unexpected and untimely death. Keiko, you see, was murdered.
The novel is a slow burn. Ren decides to stay in Akakawa after he’s asked to take over his sister’s position at a cram school. He is finishing up his time at university, having submitted his thesis for his Masters degree in English literature at a university in Tokyo. He even moves into her unconventional living situation. His sister had been living rent-free in the home of a wealthy politician in exchange for bringing his catatonic wife lunch and reading to her every day. The story moves back and forth between Ren’s memories of growing up with his sister, who was almost a decade older than him, and the present-time narrative of Ren putting his sister to rest while trying to figure out how she died.
As Ren gets to know people in Akakawa, so do we. They are an interesting cast of characters. These side narratives help to build a picture of the city and also of Keiko’s life prior to her death. Ren discovers that he didn’t know his sister as well as he thought he had.
This novel was not what I expected it to be. After reading a few reviews before selecting it, I expected something more fast-paced and centered on the murder. But, this novel was slower and took was through many little mysteries to eventually weave a heartbreaking picture of this young man coming to terms with a tremendous loss. I am so glad that I picked this up, even if it broke my heart.
The audio book was read by David Shih and he did a wonderful job.
French Concession by Xiao Bai is a complex novel that interleaves a number of different storylines told by different narrators who all live or work inside the French Concession in 1930s Shanghai. The novel begins with an assassination and from there follows a communist cell, some police officers in the French political section, an arms dealer, a newspaper photographer turned double agent, Shanghai police, and some Western speculators and diplomats trying to make their fortune. In the main storyline, the novel follows the communist cell, the arms dealer, and the cops as the one attempts to cause trouble in the Concession, one attempts to run their business, and the other attempts to stop the first two. According to documents at the end of the novel, this story is based on real happenings in Shanghai and came about when the author started trying to piece together documents that had been not well archived over the years.
It took me awhile to get into the story, possibly because of all of the different narrators and storylines. There are some storylines that are secondary to the main story, and I had a hard time at first trying to figure out how they fit. However, the novel begins with a list of characters and a brief description of who they are in relation to each other, and that helped me get into the story. Once I got into it, I kept reading into wee hours of the morning, because I wanted to know what happened.
One of the things that this novel does really well, in part because of all of the secondary stories, is its sense of place. You definitely get the feeling of a place that is full of people, all with their own agendas, trying to make their way in a bustling city. This was also helped on by an occasional map being included. Shanghai, and the French Concession, in part because it is a place that is created by the people that live in it, is a character in this novel. And, it was great. I originally bought it because I read a description that called it a noir novel. I was expecting it to be more pulpy. It is noir, for sure, following the suspects, the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes in the novel. But, it is much more complicated than a pulp novel and it required a lot more concentration. So, if you wanted something light to read at the end of the day, this is not for you.
If you enjoy novels that are told from multiple perspectives, give you a sense of a historical time and place, or are noir, then I totally recommend this novel.
Fovea Munson is a seventh grader. Her parents are surgeons that work in a cadaver lab training future surgeons. You know, when your patients are already dead, the hours are better. Fovea can deal with that, but she looks forward to her summer vacation every year where she goes to camp. And, when summer camp is cancelled and her parents receptionist quits suddenly, she finds herself working at the lab, which is so gross. And, if you think that is as bad as it gets, you’re wrong. Three disembodied heads in the lab talk to her. And, they need her to do them a favor.
From here the story builds into something that is funny and touching. Fovea needs to enlist help from outside, reaching out to a person she knows but isn’t really friends with at school. She sets up an adventure. It is great! The cast of characters are delightful and Fovea herself is amazing. I really, really enjoyed going on this adventure with her.
This is a middle grade book, for readers 8-12. If you know a kid that age that’s into science and weird stuff, get them this book. If you know some adults who are into science and weird stuff (and don’t mind reading kids books. I know, what, so weird), recommend it for them, too! I certainly enjoyed it!
So, at the beginning of the month, I accepted the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge from Lit Celebrasian because it sounded fun and it meant I had an excuse to read some books I’ve been wanting to read. It took me forever to get the ball rolling, which is pretty typical for me, I’m not going to lie. And, now, with three days remaining, I’m here to give a little update.
I’m not sure if I’m going to make it. I listened to When Dimple Met Rishi and Girl in Translation. They were both wonderful books that worked well in the audio format and I’m glad I listened to them. French Concession has taken me a little while to get into. It has been my before-bed book and it has been a heavier read than I usually pick for that time of day. I’m a third of the way through and I’m really into it now, but its slow-going. I have Running through Sprinklers by Michelle Kim all queued up for when I finish reading French Concession. I believe that counts as a multiracial/multiethnic Asian MC and I’m thinking I might listen to Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan or maybe Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao for comtemporary with Asian MC.
I also started Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses this month, but I don’t know where I’d put that on this chart. I also am not sure audiobook is the best format for Rushdie’s writing. I’ll have to keep listening and see.
Even if the month runs out before I finish the challenge, I’m going to keep at it. The books I’ve found all sound really good and I’m looking forward to reading or listening to them.
The process of looking for books for this challenge was made incredibly easy because of Lit Celebrasian’s monthly posts on New Releases by Asian Authors. An incredible amount of time and effort must go into curating these posts and they are excellent. They provide a synopsis of the book as well as information about reading level, release date and who is represented in the text. They’ve been an excellent way to find new authors and works I might not have otherwise seen. So, if you’re looking for something new to read, you should stop by their blog and have a look!
This book was so stinkin’ cute! This story follows Dimple, ready to concur her first year of Stanford and get going on her life as a app/web developer. But, she still has to wait for the summer to be over. She’d like to spend that time at Insomnia Con, a summer learning experience where she can learn to develop an app with a partner. If she wins the Con, she’ll get to meet her hero, Jenny Lindt, who will also partner with her to finish the app and get it out into the market. She’s so stoked when her parents agree that she should go. Really, though, she should have seen that they had an ulterior motive.
Rishi is excited to meet the woman that his parents want to arrange for him to marry. He assumes that this lady knows what’s up, so he goes to Insomnia Con, requests to work with her as her partner on the app and… is surprised to find out that not everyone has been as forthcoming as his parents were. Even though he couldn’t give a toss about web development, he’s still determined to make it work, even volunteering his art skills for Dimple’s app.
Will it work? Will it all end in a disastrous pile of flames? Will they win? Does Dimple meet her hero? You should read it and find out. Or, listen to it, like I did. The book is narrated by Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam and they did an excellent job. I recommend this, especially if you like light stories with well developed, complex characters. So good.
Unrelated, thanks to this book I feel like those four semesters of Hindi I took in college have finally found a use. Listening to the audio book, I was so happy to understand that bits and pieces of Hindi in the text. I still remember some words! Amazing! I was also pleased as punch to occasionally provide an explanation of something for my Mom, who was also listening to this with me. But, no worries if that isn’t something you have in your background. These small bits of text add to the story and they won’t create a stumbling block for you and your understanding. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a bilingual household, because I didn’t, so it is really neat to find fictional representations of what that might look like.
This is the second book I finished for the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge!
I’m slow-going on picking books for Bingo, but I’m going to get there. I’m pretty excited to get into this one about a Chinese-American immigrant!
My first book up for the Asian Lit Bingo challenge is French Concession by Xiao Bai. This is a noir thriller set in 1931. Picking the books for the challenge, I wanted to start with my tbr stack. I have loads of books that I’ve bought because they looked good. It was about time I found an excuse to pick one or two of them up. I’ve had this on my eReader for a few years (it is a little embarrassing to admit that) so I’m excited to have a reason to start reading it!