Sunday, June 28, 2020

Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai by Nina Mingya Powles

I devoured this delicious morsel of a book like a glutton in two hours flat. In a mere 85 pages, Nina Mingya Powles brilliantly explores her mixed racial identity and in crafting an expert travelogue about the pulsing city of Shanghai. Above all, there’s food. There are so many mouth-watering descriptions of dumplings guotie and shengjianbao; zhima bing (sesame pancakes); zongzi, mooncakes and so on, that they made me want to take a seat in one of the tiny mom-and-pop operations studded across the city. Brilliant. Eat it in tiny morsels or stuff your face. I sanction both methods wholeheartedly.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Sylvie used to own a seaside cottage in Australia. But now she is dead and her closest friends, Jude, Adele, and Wendy, all in their seventies, must pack it all up and come to terms with the new calculus of their relationships. Even if a surprise revelation at the end feels gratuitous, The Weekend is a sharp exploration of the evolution of female friendships, the trials of aging and our struggles with mortality. In the end, how do we live out our last years not knowing what tomorrow will bring? A bold and insightful dive into the mechanics of aging.

Friday, June 26, 2020

To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova

“Love’s infinite garden holds other fruit besides laughter and tears.” This Rumi quote comes alive in the inimitable Kapka Kassabova’s newest voyage in book form. She transports us to the twin lakes of Ohrid and Prespa among the remote Balkans of her family’s past. Kassabova is one of my all-time favorites so she can do no wrong. Studded with generous doses of regional history, which some might argue is often too much of a digression, this marvel of a book is so well done that it moved me to tears many times. Arguably, nobody weaves personal stories with place better. 

The Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Facebook post is all it takes for Jivan to be accused of a horrific crime: the burning of a few train carriages in Kolkata, India, that leads to many deaths. Fate does not favor Jivan — she is poor and Muslim in a country where Hindu nationalism is on the rise. Against this background, a transgender woman named Lovely narrates her story and we learn about PT Sir, a teacher who once taught Jivan, who gets sucked into the maelstrom of right-wing politics. Scintillating dialog and a sharp eye for the nuances of class make for a spectacular debut.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Museum of Whales You Will Never See and Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unusual Museums by A. Kendra Greene

The Herring Era Museum. Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum. This delightful and surprisingly spiritual book steeps you in such a strong sense of place that you’ll want to visit Iceland right away. “There are so many flavors of loss. There is deprivation and disappointment. There is sacrifice and grief. There is trifling. There is needless. There is missing and forgotten. There is, though sometimes it is hard to imagine, necessary. There is, though we hardly need reminding, catastrophic. Iceland trades in all of them,” Green writes. There seems to be a museum for each. A book to be savored more than once.

Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han

Under the tranquil night skies, the Chengs: Liang, Patty, Jack and Annabel are trying their best to cobble together the definition of a family in Plano, Texas. Each brings the weight of his/her experience, however short-lived, to the assemblage. Jack spends his very early years in China while his parents are still trying to lay the foundation for the American dream. That vision threatens to crumble because of Annabel’s forceful personality and the unnamed burdens the rest bear. “Only in America are people naive enough to name everything they see,” Liang thinks. The unexamined life though is no picnic either. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Book of Rosy: A Mother's Story of Separation at the Border by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo

Yes, this is Rosayra Pablo Cruz’s story about her migration from Guatemala to the United States and paying a steep price in the process. The moving book also serves two larger purposes: it puts a face to the Trump administration’s cruel zero tolerance policies that have separated parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Second, it explores how Rosy’s life intersected with that of Julie Schwietert Collazo, founder of Immigrant Families Together, a nonprofit that has been reuniting separated families and helping them live full lives in their newly adopted country. Heartbreaking and hopeful, a home run.

Full disclosure: Julie's a dear friend and colleague.