Lu Yao’s Life

What an opportunity we readers have here.  Chinese author Lu Yao had only two published works and died at the age of forty-two, but Life, this superb novella published in 1982 and still a bestseller in China, is now in English translation.  It’s the early Eighties, rural China begins a slow forever change, begins to turn away from the community and culture of eons; and we meet Gao Jialin, the educated son of peasants.  A sympathetic character, he’s lost his prestigious teaching job, lost face, and is in despair.  Lu Yao shares only a brief span of this young man’s life with the wrenching decisions he must make between the known past and the unknown future, a story that portends China’s path from rural to urban.

So very Chinese, yes, but absolutely stunning in its universality.  Human beings, past, present, and forever, have acted and will act as this young man does and as those around him do.  What is loss of face, but pride, hubris?  Do we choose generosity of spirit or cunning ambition?  Betrayal or trust?  What are we but “I want”?  Lu Yao’s quiet work could have played out on a stage in ancient Greece.  And one of the simplest, most beautiful opening paragraphs I’ve ever read begins “On the tenth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, the evening sky was…”

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Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by AmazonCrossing via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City

“All that’s left now is to listen.”  And “listen” you must to this beautifully poetic and original novel.  In and around the Estate (think the projects), it is hot summer, and London simmers.  A “soldier boy” is killed.  Protests block streets.  Skinheads.  Young  Muslim enforcers.   “Britain first.” The mosque burns.  Riots.  Okay, current, topical, in the news, right?  Important, too, and ugly, right?    Oh, certainly, but it is the language and the individual voices telling this story that make all the difference here, all the difference.

The young men here are black, Pakistani, Muslim, Irish; they are street and cynical; and they all speak the same language.   A rich, rich broth that is both slang and dialect, sometimes verging on patois, and it made my heart sing – again and again.   There is the lilting voice of a gentleman from the Caribbean islands remembering the violence of the Teddy boys against black immigrants.    A hard, single mom from Dublin is another with a reminder of religious-based violence in Ireland.   The human spirit, the will, is in the voice.  So, listen, please.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle

What a glorious, magical, mystical novel!  About a stolen bicycle.  What?  Those words and it’s about a stolen bicycle?  Indeed.  Let’s start with bicycles.  You’ll find that’s a much deeper subject than you ever knew.  And Taiwan, a culture and territory almost totally unknown to me.  WWII in southeast Asia with elephants.  Can’t lose with elephants, now can you?  And more, but this book is far, far more than its oh, so interesting parts.  This is a magnificent swirling crystal of a book.  Look into it and lose yourself.  A modern masterpiece.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Text Publishing / Text UK via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut

I read constantly, and I love Australian authors, so why did I not know Tim Winton?  Oh, but if I didn’t, I do now, and that’s the thing about reading, isn’t it?  This affecting novel is told in the first person by Jaxie Clackton, a horribly abused young man you will never forget, as rough and raw as his short life has been.  Jaxie runs away into the western Australian wilderness where, with his survival in doubt, he discovers another unlikely loner grubbing out an existence.  What a story this is, rich in both place and characterization.  Thank you, Mr. Winton, for this book and for everything else you’ve written that I’m going to read.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.