The moral of these excellent tales: Never underestimate your small-town neighbor/bedfellow.

THE CEMETERY OF CHUA VILLAGE

AND OTHER STORIES

Ten Gogol-like tales about provincial scheming, in a first English translation for Vietnamese writer, actress, director and painter Doan Le.

Many of these picaresque stories are set in a rural area called Chua Village, a microcosm for Vietnamese society that’s rife with class and sex oppression, feudal backwardness and government corruption. In the first, title, story, the ghosts of the local cemetery all look forward to the initiation ceremony of a new arrival—the well-decorated brigadier general in the glass coffin—except that the figure who emerges is an electrician, third class retired, whose body was switched for the great man at the mortuary because of a failure to have greased the attending guard’s palm with the customary “gratuity.” “The Real Estate of Chua Village” is a satiric look at a weasely resident who attempts to sell the village pond, setting off a real-estate fever among the clannish residents who try to outdo each other in get-rich-quick schemes. In “The Venus of Chua Village,” a none-too-successful painter of The Twenty Springtimes of Woman accepts the modeling services of a beautiful young village girl sold off by her brother to pay his gambling debts. Her sacrifice deeply touches the painter, and he never parts with the painting until years later, when it’s stolen by the model’s daughter to redress her mother’s martyrdom. Occasionally, Doan Le slips into Kafkaesque allegory, as in “Achieving Flyhood,” about an aging, divorced acrobat who petitions the housing authorities for an apartment but is transformed into a fly—a gay fly, at that—and so is happily rid of the problem of housing (and women) for good. Elsewhere, stories achieve a personal, poignant tone, as in “The Double Bed of Chua Village,” about the narrator wife in bed with her sleeping husband as she resolves, clear-eyed but sorrowfully, to leave her mate of 28 years before he leaves her.

The moral of these excellent tales: Never underestimate your small-town neighbor/bedfellow.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-931896-12-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Curbstone Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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