[Review] The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

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I Made A Roma x Juliette Playlist

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang — a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love … and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns — and grudges — aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

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Thoughts I Had While Reading THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan

Four mothers, four daughters, four families, whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s telling the stories. In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. United in loss and new hope for their daughters’ futures, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Their daughters, who have never heard these stories, think their mothers’ advice is irrelevant to their modern American lives – until their own inner crises reveal how much they’ve unknowingly inherited of their mothers’ pasts. 

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

WARNING: This post will likely contain spoilers.

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Mini-Reviews, Volume 3

Catching up on all my reviews for Asian Lit Bingo is a much bigger undertaking than I had anticipated and is in fact a continuing process, though I don’t regret reading any of these books — regardless of how much I enjoyed the overall story experience, I learned a lot about different Asian and hyphenated-Asian (i.e., Asian-American, Asian-Australian, etc.) experiences different from my own. Each set of characters has unique struggles and dreams, illustrating the importance of diversity in publishing and of giving #ownvoices authors the opportunity to tell their stories as no one else can.

Without further ado, here are some books with Asian main characters, written by Asian authors, which have stuck with me and which I think more people should check out for themselves.

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REVIEW: A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold

I received a review copy of this book through Netgalley; all opinions are my own and honest.

Summary: March, 1945. The ravaged face of London will soon be painted with victory, but for Sylvie the private battle for peace is only just beginning. Revealing strength and small acts of kindness in the most unlikely places, A Small Dark Quiet looks through the eyes of a mother as she finds the courage to face loss – both her own, and that of the orphan born in a concentration camp whom she and her husband, Gerald, adopt two years later.

Haunted by the gaps in the orphan’s history, Sylvie begins to draw him into parallel with her dead child. When she gives the orphan the stillborn child’s name, Arthur, she unwittingly entangles him in a grief he will never be able to console. His name has been erased, his origins merely guessed at, but the trauma Arthur carries begins to release itself in nightmares, merging into the story he has been told about the dead child whose life he is expected to step into.

Having internalized the sense that he is an imposter, Arthur’s yearning for a place where he might be accepted is echoed in our own time. Striking, too, are the resonances that can be felt through Arthur’s journey as the novel unfolds over the next twenty years: the past he can neither recall nor forget lives on within him even as he strives to forge a life for himself. Identity and belonging may be elusive, but the pulse of survival insists he keeps searching and, as he opens himself to the world around him, there are flashes of just how resilient the human heart can be.

As part of this process, Arthur comes to understand that he is Jewish, yet he fears what this might entail – could this be an identity or will it only make him more of an outsider? He’s threatened with being sent back where he belongs – but no one can tell him where this is; he learns all about ‘that other little Arthur’, yearning both to become him and to free himself from his ghost. He can neither fit the shape of the life that has been lost nor grow into the one his adopted father has carved out for him.

Through Sylvie’s unprocessed grief and Arthur’s acute sense of displacement, A Small Dark Quiet explores how the compulsion to fill the empty space that death leaves can, ultimately, only make the sense of such a devastating void more acute. Yet the search to belong and the instinct to love and connect persists in this story of loss, migration and the ways in which we find ourselves caught between the need to feel safe and the will to be free

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