A richly layered debut—set in Singapore in the Sixties and Seventies—that's a memorable mix of ancestral voices, political intrigue, and rites of passage. Su Yen, an orphan raised by her Chinese-born grandmother after her parents are killed, attends the Convent of St. Catherine of Sienna, a mission school, learns history from her wisdom-figure grandmother and Realpolitik from cousin Li Shin—who decides against an apprenticeship in the family business, as well as against marriage to a girl from a good family, in order to become a soldier. The novel invokes not only childhood—where Su Yen plays inside a house of many rooms surrounded by trees and an extended family—but also the ambiance of Singapore: coconut trees, monsoons, and sand dust; friction between Malays and Chinese; and the Communist threat—all rendered vividly. As Su Yen describes family rituals, superstitions, and seasonal routines, along with memorable characters like the twin aunties who were born mute, the perspective of childhood shrouds events outside the family in an air of mystery. The girl, witnessing from the sidelines, nevertheless makes us see how the family both orders and oppresses the lives of its members. The grandmother discovers that Li Shin has joined the National Cadets, and Su Yen, before the book ends with her first period, tries to understand as an uncle disappears; as an aunt, apparently raped, is quarantined through her pregnancy and childbirth; and as Li Shin is attacked and killed on night patrol. It's the grandmother's aphoristic mind that finally provides the enduring perspective here: ``Love does not guarantee anything, except in the pictures. In real life you have destiny, and you have hard work.'' Cheong evokes not only the political friction but also a family history built from equal parts of mythology, tradition, and rebellion: a first novel that deserves a wide readership.*justify no*

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-03024-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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