The Week in Books #105

10/14 ✅

It’s May first which makes it the first day of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I’ve set aside a big pile of books from my TBR written by Asian authors (mostly East and Southeast Asian as I had so many, PI and West/South Asian authors to come later) and I’m really looking forward to getting through as many as I can. I started last week and this week I added a few more to the Read pile.

1. Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui-Feng. This is a wonderfully written novel about the immigrant experience and family ties that was long listed for the Giller prize in 2021. I liked the way all the threads came together but kind of wished it was longer and more detailed, which is really a compliment because I enjoyed the characters and wanted to know more about them, especially Junie. Definitely worth a read!

In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie’s growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family’s shared future.

What Junie doesn’t know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China’s Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie’s future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie’s birthday—even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.

“A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love,” (Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee) Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn—a talented violinist from Momo’s past—while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.

Simon and Schuster

2. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This is my first book by Viet Thanh Nguyen and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a short story collection and I loved all the little vignettes within. The writing style is strong while still being accessible to a wide range of readers, and the characters were quite enjoyable. Very good collection!

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.


3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. This book is gorgeous and I’m sad it took me so long to get to it. The use of colours throughout to describe feelings/mood is really brilliant, I feel like it’s something I’m going to start doing now. What colour are you today? It also beautifully handles a very depressing topic and I loved the imagery of the red bird as well as Leigh’s journey back through the memories of her mother’s life. Absolutely recommend.

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between reality and magic, past and present, hope and despair, THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, bravery, and love.
6/19 ✅

I’ve collected some really great books for my TBR over the last few weeks so I put together two more little stacks to dig into. I’m really excited to get to some of these titles!!

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