A smoothly told, down-to-earth tale of an American abroad.

HOW SWEET THE BITTER SOUP

A MEMOIR

In this debut memoir, writer and public speaker Qian describes how a fateful decision to take a teaching job in China changed the course of her life

Around the year 2000, the author was finding that her life in Chicago was becoming untenable. Her parents were broke, her father’s Alzheimer’s disease was worsening, and she was overworked from trying to cover their expenses. When she received an offer to move to China to teach, it seemed like the perfect solution; she could make more money to send to her parents, and she would have the necessary space to take back some control of her own life. She flew to Guangzhou, where she began teaching second-graders and immersing herself in the unfamiliar culture of the People’s Republic of China. The author experienced an unexpected surge in spirituality, as well as a new appreciation of travel and exploration: “Now that I was here in China, being given this incredible chance to learn and grow, I didn’t want to waste one moment,” she recalls. “There was something to learn, either about China or about myself, all the time.” Although being far away from her family was difficult for her, she soon met an attractive Chinese teaching assistant at her school, Qian Zhi Ming, whose “English name” was William. A romance developed, and the author quickly realized that China was not a temporary stop-off for her, but a place that would become a permanent part of her life. Qian writes with detail and humor, elegantly capturing intercultural moments, as when her mother asked her about William’s political affiliation: “So, is he a communist?” (He wasn’t.) The details of planning her wedding in William’s hometown are particularly engaging, as their engagement was met with no small amount of surprise from locals. Their marriage gives the book a more novelistic structure, which sets it apart from other expatriate remembrances; for example, when William develops tuberculosis, it adds a very real element of uncertainty to the author’s adventure. There are surely more action-packed books about Americans in China, but Qian’s smooth prose and sympathetic affect make this memoir a compelling read.

A smoothly told, down-to-earth tale of an American abroad.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-614-5

Page Count: 296

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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