Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T Lee #AsianLitBingo

The first hospital stay, I was a compliant patient, a Sweet Asian Doll, and for this I was branded with a Severe Lifelong Mental Illness. Later, I would be told I had a twenty percent chance of maintaining a full-time job, a twenty-five percent chance of living independently, a forty percent chance of attempting suicide, a ten percent chance of succeeding.

I was twenty-six years old.

This was an exquisite book.

It’s not an easy tale to tell – one of mental illness, of immigrants both legal and illegal, of family and relationships both wonderful and strange.

Miranda, as the older sister, has always been protector, defender and the responsible one. And even more so now that their mother has passed away. Lucia brims with vibrancy and vivacity. She’s unconventional, some may say strange. She’s lived in South America and is marrying an Israeli man she barely seems to know. And worse, she’s started hearing voices.

Just as soon as she married Yonah she decides she wants to have a child and leaves him for a young Ecuadorian man, Manny, who is in the country illegally. Eventually they move back to his small village in Ecuador which soon proves a problem for Lucia’s condition.

Lee said in an interview that she has family members with schizophrenia and in the book it is clear that she’s dealt with various aspects of it, especially the way Miranda tries to handle the various hospital staff who don’t seem to understand how best to treat her sister. Miranda has done all her research and is familiar with all the problems the different drugs give her sister.

In bringing in Manny to the story, we see someone who cares for Lucia and also tries to appease her, not knowing exactly what she needs but still trying his very best to help.

Everything Here is Beautiful is a must-read. I seldom say things like that so I hope you know I mean it. It was a story gently and thoughtfully told, one that explores different perspectives, one that shows us how mental illness affects family and loved ones.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian MC with Disability

Advertisements

#AsianLitBingo – The Land of Forgotten Girls

Ever since Erin Entrada Kelly’s third book, Hello, Universe, won the 2018 Newbery award, I’ve been curious about her books. And now that I’ve read one, how I wish I could have read it when I was a kid!

It’s a bit of a sad story really, two young girls move to the US from the Philippines not long after their sister and mother die and their father remarries this woman Vea, who really falls into the “evil stepmother” category. Life isn’t easy but then three years ago, their father returns to the Philippines for a funeral and never returns to America.

“Unfortunately, we still have Vea.”

Vea, who complains a lot, smokes a lot, and locks Sol in the closet when she misbehaves.

12-year-old Sol is defiant but her younger sister Ming is young and doesn’t know any better.

“I’m not a disobedient girl, even though Papa and Vea say I am. Vea thinks it’s because I’m being raised in America, but that’s not it. I just don’t think it’s right to obey orders that you know are wrong – and calling Vea “Mother” was as bad as cursing God.”

They live in lower-income housing. Thin walls, the kind you can hear all kinds of sounds through, and rats. It’s a bleak and depressing place, but Sol tries to make it a better one for her sister by telling her fairytales and stories she makes up or remembers from what their mother told her, including stories about their made-up Auntie Jove, a beautiful adventurer who travels the world and was blessed by fairies.  Ming holds on to the hope of being found by Auntie Jove.

Sol wants to make Ming a treehouse, a place for her to escape, and she breaks into a junkyard to get materials but gets caught by the junkyard owner, who has a change of heart and showcases his artistic side. Similarly, she finds a friend in neighbour Mrs Yeung, a silent Chinese woman. Perhaps there is hope after all for the two girls.

Sol is a great character – spunky, driven, and independent. She’s also a fierce defender of her younger sister. And while she does some silly things like stealing popsicles from the store and breaking into the junkyard, she knows right from wrong, and knows that their living situation isn’t ideal but that as a child, she can hardly do anything about it.

I really liked this story about a young, lower-income, immigrant girl struggling to fit in. As an adult reader, I think I wanted the book to touch more on race and class issues. But if I had been reading this as a 10-year-old I would have enjoyed this a lot, the way it brings in a bit of fantasy into reality.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Immigrant MC.

See the rest of my TBR list here

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

I thought I would be reading a light-hearted YA teenaged about school friendships. But it was so much more than that. And I am so glad.

Lucy Lam is from the Australian suburb of Stanley, a place “where many people work in banking and advertising – that is, their mums clean banks and their brothers put Safeway ads into mailboxes. It’s a place where people have four cars in their driveways – but only one that is working.”

Somehow she wins a scholarship to an elite private girls’ school. In fact, she is the “inaugural Equal Access student” and the headmistress constantly makes sure she doesn’t forget that.

Her family is from Vietnam and they are Teochew Chinese. They fled Vietnam for Australia when Lucy was just a few years old.

Her father works in a carpet factory and her mother makes a little bit of extra cash by taking on garment sewing in their garage. She also has a baby brother, who spends most of his time in the garage with their mum.

I was kind of excited to see the mention of a Teochew background as it’s something I’ve not come across in fiction before. Part of my family is Teochew, as in our ancestors originated from this region in Guangdong, China (I’m also part Hokkien and Hainanese).

(Back to the story!)

Lucy, writing about her experience in letters to her friend Linh, is at first enthralled with the glamorous school and wealthy classmates. But she soon discovers that the school is pretty much run by a clique of ultra-rich girls known as the Cabinet, even some of the teachers are at their mercy.

I loved how this book handles elitism and privilege, racial prejudice and the experience of Asian immigrants in Australia. It was thought-provoking and also rather amusing especially when a parent of Lucy’s classmate invites her home to demonstrate how to make rice-paper rolls.

“I could just see her at the market, Linh, marveling at the beauty of it all, extolling the parsimony of ethnic women and their ability to select ripe avocados and mangoes, bitter gourds and rambutans.”

Lucy and Linh was a sharp, funny and just fantastic read. We don’t get many Australian books here in the libraries of suburban America, which is such a pity, so this was an extra pleasure to read.

I read for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Refugee MC.

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo wrap-up

Boy did this challenge fly by.

I loved pushing myself to read – and more importantly, review! – these books in a month!

Here’s what I read. All are #ownvoices

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkataraman 

 Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen  (South East Asian MC)

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Retelling with Asian MC)

The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura (Translated Work by an Asian Author)

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee  (SFF with Asian MC)

Malice by Keigo Higashino (East Asian MC)

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Multiethnic Asian MC)

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fatah (Asian Muslim MC)

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam  (LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC)

 Goat Days by Benjamin (Poor or working class Asian MC)

Ms Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa (Artist), Adrian Alphona (Artist) (Asian Superhero MC)

Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (Graphic novel with Asian MC)

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi (Central Asian MC)

The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui (Asian Refugee MC)

#AsianLitBingo: A Time to Dance by Padma Venkataraman

I wasn’t expecting a novel in verse. And really, I didn’t know what to expect except that this book nicely fit into the Asian Lit Bingo category of “Asian MC with Disability”. And of course, dance.

“Both feet on the ground again, I pirouette and leap,

rejoicing in the speed at which

the body obeys my mind’s commands,

celebrating my strong, skilled body — 

the center and source of my joy,

the one thing I can count on,

the one thing that never fails me.”

Growing up in Singapore, I knew a little (just a little) about Indian dance. In Singapore, ‘Indians’ (that is, anyone of South Asian ethnicity) make up about 7% of the population. And at my all-girls secondary school, there was a strong Indian dance group that performed at many occasions. I remember watching them walk on stage, the bells on their legs jingling. And all the many whirling and strenuous vibrant movements they made. It was such a huge contrast to the more gentle movements that the Chinese dance troupe performed. 

Veda is a dancer. A Bharatanatyam dancer. It is her life, it is her passion, it is her world. She lives and breathes dance. 

But her world comes crashing down when she loses her leg in a car accident. She now has to figure out how to walk again with a prosthetic leg. 

“It feels like Shiva destroyed my universes of possibility,

like He’s dancing

on the ashes 

of my snatched-away dreams.”

Somehow she finds the strength in herself to learn to dance again. She finds a new teacher and begins at the beginning with the youngest dancers. 

Veda is such a great character. She’s strong and resilient yet also very vulnerable and innocent. I love that she has a great relationship with her grandmother, who encourages her dancing, while her relationship with her mother is much more constrained. 

A Time to Dance is a sweet and beautiful story with dance at its heart and a courageous inspiring young woman at its soul. 

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian MC with Disability

#AsianLitBingo: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

 

I probably should have first read Little House on the Prairie before reading this book. While I know of the story – and think I remember watching some episodes of the TV show – I cannot confirm if I’ve actually read the book.

This book luckily has plenty of layers and even a non-Little House reader like me can find plenty to love.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother is hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This  brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter.

So in one hand, a literary mystery that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother has been hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter Rose.

So on one hand, a literary mystery of sorts that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco in search of Rose Wilder. (I say ‘of sorts’ because if you’re coming to this book looking for an actual mystery, then you may be disappointed. Also, if you’ve already read all the Little House books and all kinds of non-fiction about the Wilders then you will also be disappointed. I’m adding these caveats as I’ve read some reviews on Goodreads and I reckon these readers were coming into the story expecting new revelations about the Wilders. It was however an interesting experience for myself, not knowing anything about the story behind the books, to learn  about Rose Wilder Lane, who, despite her own work, her journalism, her books (she was the first biographer of Herbert Hoover and her collaboration on the Little House series), she is today best known as being the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And on the other hand, this is a story about family. Her mother wants her to take over the business. Lee Lien feels a tug towards her family, wanting to help her mother and her grandfather. But she also knows that it is time to figure out things for herself, to learn where her research can take her, to carve her own path.

I really enjoyed this one.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South East Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo: The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

“And so it came to pass that sisters who had been the best of friends were forced to follow separate paths. ‘Separate’ is not quite the right word. Our paths were more distinctly different, as if she were to follow the day and I the night; or she the inner road and I the outer, she to traverse the heavens and I the earth. That was the ‘law’ of the island – that was our ‘destiny’.

It feels like a bit of a gamble for Natsuo Kirino, best known for her crime/mystery novels, to have written this retelling of the Japanese creation myth.

Yet it also remains true to her female-focused narratives, with this being a more feminist rebelling.

Apparently when Kirino’s books, especially Out, were first published in Japan, many criticized  her plots and one radio DJ refused to speak to her because in Out, a woman murders her husband.

Also, later I realize that The Goddess Chronicle is part of the Canongate myth series and that Kirino was invited by the publisher to write a story based on ancient Japanese myth.

I didn’t know anything about this myth of Izanaki and Izanami before reading the book – and you don’t really need to but I guess it would enhance your reading of it.  Izanaki and Izanami are deities commanded to make the lands of Japan. Their first attempt resulted in a deformed island and upon consulting the other deities, they learn that it’s because Izanami (the female) had spoken first. And when they try procreating again, Izanaki speaks first and Izanami gives birth to the many islands of Japan. After giving birth to the fire deity, Izanami dies. Izanaki pursues her to the underworld. (You can read more here)

The Goddess Chronicle begins with a dual thread of a story of a young woman whose journey has echoes of the goddess’ life. Namima who lives on a tiny remote island, where the islanders believe they are ruled by ancient gods.

“They sustained our lives; the waves and wind, the sand and stones. We respected the grandeur of nature. Our gods did not come to us in any specific form, but we held them in our hearts and understood them in our own way.”

Her sister Kamikuu is apprenticed to the Oracle on her sixth birthday. She lives with her and learns from her. And she is to no longer see Namima again. Namima is tasked to carry food to Kamikuu. Despite the poverty and scarce resources of the village, the food for Kamikuu is bountiful and rich. Yet she barely eats it, and as is tradition, the leftovers are tossed into the sea

Namibia is due for a very different life.

“Kamikuu, Child of Gods, is yang. She is the high priestess who rules the realm of light. She resides at the Kyoido on the eastern edge of the island, where the sun rises. But you are yin. You must preside over the realm of darkness. You will live here, in the Amiido, on the western edge where the sun sets.

That is, she is to care for the dead. She is to live with them, tend to their decaying bodies, and never return to her village.

But Namima wants more than this dreadful life she is expected to live, just because she is second-born. Things take a very different turn for her when she meets a young man, a fellow outcast whose family is shunned because his mother cannot produce a female child.

We eventually meet the deities Izanaki and Izanami and gods being gods, their story does sound rather silly and petty but they will never change. Or will they?

It took me a while to get into this story. Sometimes with translations one can never tell – is it the translation or is it just how the original story is written? Quite a bit of over-explaining makes the narrative a bit clunky. But overall, I really enjoyed learning about this Japanese myth and I especially liked the human story running alongside. Although I so wish that there was a better resolution to Namima’s story.

 

 

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Retelling with Asian MC