marlowe1: (high school reunion)
34. Village of Stone by Xiaolu Guo - One of the hardest things about reviewing books is just how hard it is to review a book that you love. What's even worse is the fact that now I want to read everything by Xiaolu Gao and she even has a couple movies with only one on DVD that is playable in the U.S. (UFO in her eyes). This is the first book and it's beautiful. I know it's a translation so I am also praising Cindy Carter, but it's like there isn't a line or a sentence wasted and every word is measured. The story itself is hard to describe well because on the surface it's about a woman living in Beijing with her boyfriend and remembering her time in a small village in the family that was the outcast family because her grandmother was an outsider and her father ran off. The main action in the present is the fact that these two characters receive an eel and while it stinks up their apartment, they realize that it's expensive so they slowly eat it. The past is full of sexual abuse and silence where a girl can get kidnapped and raped and held against her will and when she escapes no one seems to care.

One critic compared it to a dream.

35. The Pursuit of Happiness by Anne Roiphe - One of the characters turns out to be Roy Cohn. That was the only part that annoyed me. The character begins as a brat kid who lies about stealing and gets a nod of approval from his mother, shows up in the 1950s as an anti-Communist who is very dangerous and then dies of AIDS in the last chapters with his cats all going to a shelter to die. Did Roy Cohn have cats that were put down after he died? What the fuck? The rest of the book is surprisingly engaging as Anne Ropiphe gives us a multi-generational family that sneaks on over from the old country (the matriarch steals diamonds to get to America and then keeps the diamonds that show up whenever horrible things happen in the book). The framing story is a mother worried about her daughter in Israel and only in the last few pages do you find out why the daughter gets shot while the mother is almost a footnote in her own story. There's a lot of "dear reader, do you judge this character harshly" wording which gets a little grating, but somehow it all holds together.

Oddly enough, family trees seem like the literary equivalent of maps.

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Tim Lieder

July 2017

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