A well-crafted tale of a person who forges ahead amid heartbreak and war.

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SONJU

Chang offers a debut historical novel about the extraordinary transformation of a Korean woman and her country.

In 1946, the inquisitive, forward-thinking 19-year-old Sonju holds onto the hope of “living a modern life” by continuing her education and marrying childhood friend Kungu, whom her parents find unsuitable. Although she dreams of being “equal partners” in a marriage in which both partners have “equal voice,” it quickly becomes clear that her future will be different, as her parents arrange a marriage to a stranger. Her new husband lives in Maari, a strictly traditional village; it takes time for Sonju to adjust to married life in a large extended family, but she grows fond of her sister-in-law and comes to have a tolerable relationship with her husband. Her life is irrevocably changed when she has a daughter, Jinju; just as South Korea moves toward independence from Japan, Sonju vows to raise Jinju as an independent girl, giving her “freedom to explore possibilities.” Sonju also begins to teach local women how to read and write. But as the Korean War breaks out, her dreams for her future are threatened. She and her daughter evacuate but aren’t spared from witnessing horrors of war: “limp bodies reduced to animal flesh, reeking animal stench.” After the war, her marriage unravels after a great loss, and she eventually returns to Seoul, where she rekindles her love for Kungu. Soon, though, she must begin anew once again. Throughout this novel, Chang uses Sonju’s life as a metaphor for the cultural upheaval of Korea in the mid-20th century. She successfully crafts a fully formed protagonist with singular strength and determination, and her prose is measured and thoughtful. She’s particularly adept at conveying emotion through everyday, domestic imagery that readers will appreciate, as when Sonju sadly contemplates the “valleys and mountains” made by the fabric of her wedding gown, mourning days of freedom with her childhood friends; at another point, during her melancholy introduction to her husband’s family home, she notices how the “freshly applied wallpaper with light pink flowers seemed overly hopeful.”

A well-crafted tale of a person who forges ahead amid heartbreak and war.

Pub Date: July 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-94-869258-8

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Madville Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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