A series of travelogues and memoirs linked by the subjects of race and identity.
In 11 pieces ranging in length from mere paragraphs to several pages, Rekdal writes with candor and poetic deftness about experiences in her distant and recent life as a woman of half-Norwegian and half-Chinese descent. In Taipei she traveled with her Chinese mother (making one half of an odd pair whose intimacy confused concierges and shopkeepers), while in Korea (where she taught English at a girls’ high school in a small, conservative town) her lessons evolve into arguments about gender, sexuality, and their attendant mores. Rekdal doesn’t shirk from putting her inner self on the line; her intimate relationships with boyfriends and parents are subject to the same gimlet gaze as foreign places and people—and, depending on whether her travels are within the boundaries of the US or within the bank of her childhood memories, the tone of her collection shifts from the light-hearted and ironic to the ambiguous and even tragic. (A long memoir of Rekdal’s sixth-grade friendship with another student—a black girl from a white foster-family whose own struggle with self and world exacts a price—edges the story into deeper waters, for example.) Her account cannot quite be considered a memoir, nor is it entirely a collection of essays. Its cumulative but delicate strength lies primarily in the author’s narrative and descriptive skills (she has published poems and essays in several small journals), as well as its refusal to be anything more than anecdotal and matter-of-fact. The impish, nothing-to-it-ness of Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk (as well as Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted ) comes to mind.
Like its author, this is a hybrid—both casual and entertaining.