If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

A moving, accomplished debut.

At its heart is a love triangle. There is Haemi, 16. The war has forced her, her mother and sickly younger brother, out of their village and into a refugee camp. There is Kyunghwan. They sneak out together late nights on his bicycle, looking for makgeolli to get drunk with. Jisoo is Kyunghwan’s cousin, he’s more well-off than Kyunghwan and wants to marry Haemi before he enlists.

Haemi eventually marries him, as she feels Jisoo is the best way to ensure that her family is secure, but her decision to forsake Kyunghwan continues to affect her – and her family – through the years.

I loved how Kim effortlessly weaves historical events through the story – the aftermath of the Korean War.

Haemi’s story continues to echo in my head even after finishing the book. She’s not an easy character to like as she struggles to accept this life that she chose. But I appreciate that Kim doesn’t turn her life into a bright shiny happy one and instead leaves the reader wondering, would she really be happier if she had chosen otherwise?

If you’ve read some of my book thoughts on my blog/Instagram, you may know that I’m always interested in books that feature food and If You Leave Me will make you hungry for Korean food. While I do love eating at Korean restaurants, I learnt a lot about Korean food that aren’t found in Korean restaurants here, such as steamed silkworm pupae, hotteok (a sweet pancake with brown sugar and walnuts), tea made with persimmon leaves.

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#AsianLitBingo 2019 Wrap-up!

 

I had a fun time reading books for this challenge

 

Here is what I read:

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC #ownvoices

Emergency Contact by Mary H K ChoiRomance with POC love interest #ownvoices

River of Stars by Vanessa Hua Asian Immigrant MC #ownvoices

Not Your Sidekick by CB LeeAsian superhero MC #ownvoices

My Brother’s Husband Vol 2 by Gengoroh TagameGraphic novel with Asian MC #ownvoices

Bad Friends by Ancco  – Poor or working class MC #ownvoices

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay South Asian MC #ownvoices

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo East Asian MC #ownvoices

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee #AsianLitBingo

This review is not going to do justice to this book. This book needs a proper, more insightful one than these notes I’m writing. Because it’s the kind of book that makes you go, wow, this is a writer who can write. This is a writer whose words can move mountains, make tea go cold without noticing, tears fall from unsuspecting eyes. This is a writer whom, I imagine, writers look up to, but also are perhaps afraid, wondering, can I write like this too?

For Alexander Chee has taken a subject that is ugly and perverse and has sculpted it into something moving and somehow, beautiful.

(Autocorrect keeps changing my “moving” into “loving” but really, loving is an equally suitable word for this book.)

A young boy joins a boys’ choir. Aphias or Fee is 12 and Korean-Scottish. He may look a bit different from the other boys but like them, he is sexually abused by the choir director.

Edinburgh is the story of how he overcomes this childhood trauma and the loss of those he loves.

It is no easy read but it is haunting and spectacular, even more so when I realized this was his debut novel. It may seem like a weird juxtaposition but this book was both beautiful and brutal.

River of Stars by Vanessa Hua #AsianLitBingo

At Perfume Bay, women are getting ready to give birth. It is a facility specifically for women from China who want to have their babies in America, for to be born in America gives their babies citizenship.

Scarlett is one of the twelve pregnant women, sent there by her lover Boss Yeung, a powerful man with lots of guanxi and gets her the best room in the house.

But at an ultrasound, Scarlett discovers that the baby boy she’s been expecting is actually a girl. Another daughter for Boss Yeung. She worries about the future of her daughter, and when she learns that Boss Yeung wants to pay her to hand over the baby, whom he still thinks is a boy, she decides to run away. Another Perfurme Bay inhabitant, Daisy, a teenager whose parents sent her away to have her baby, takes off with her too.

The two pregnant women head to San Francisco’s Chinatown where they struggle to figure out how to support themselves and their two babies. Meanwhile, Boss Yeung continues to search for his son, and Daisy begins to search for the father of her baby. Scarlett’s tourist visa is expiring and while desperately trying to scrounge for money for rent and necessities, she also has to worry about how to stay on in the US.

A solid story about motherhood and the American dream. The desperation and struggles that  the two women go through is honest and moving.

(Spoiler alert!)

 

 

 

 

The women’s stories were compelling but the men in this story seem rather uneven. Boss Yeung, I can’t really tell sometimes whether we are meant to dislike him or not. At times he’s  heartless or is he really just in pursuit of his true love? But for me, the part that doesn’t seem to sit well with the rest of the book is the super-sweet ending that Daisy receives. Maybe if her ending turned out different, I would have rated this higher. Maybe if the book had kept more of its focus on the two women? It bothered me, this saccharine ending. Maybe I am just too skeptical…

 

 

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Immigrant MC

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay #AsianLitBingo

This book took me by surprise. I often go into books not really knowing much about them. And this one I knew absolutely nothing about at all. I could tell by the author’s name that she was South Asian and I wondered what the flowers and the title meant.

From the first chapter, we know that this is not a happy story. The narrator, a woman aged 30, talks about a man who vanished from his home in the mountains, a man who vanished partly because of her, because of things she said and things she didn’t say. And she also mentions the death of her mother. A woman who could be vicious, a woman who could be snarky.

“It’s hard not to wonder how much might have been prevented if only I had loved him more, or, perhaps, loved her a little less. But that is useless thinking, and perilous. Better to let things stand as they were: she, my incandescent mother, and I, her little beast.”

Shalini travels to Kashmir in search of a man who was once a big part of their lives – her and her mother’s. She doesn’t know anyone else there but somehow these complete strangers help her, let them stay with her. She becomes a part of their lives. Yet her being there threatens their safety.

I loved reading about the mountain villages in Kashmir. I have never been to Kashmir or India but when I was in university, I traveled to Nepal to do a trek to Annapurna base camp. And while it was years ago, I can still picture all those little mountain villages we walked through and stayed at. I always remember marveling at these two young kids in school uniform – an older girl and a younger boy – skipping and hopping down the path ahead of us, out of their village and off far away to wherever their school was, something they did every day, twice a day, probably passing many other foreigners like us who were slowly clomping and stomping their way through the mountains.

It also brought to my awareness the conflict in Kashmir, something I know little about, but wanted to know more of after reading this.

The author writes beautifully but her main character Shalini was not easy to connect with. She sometimes seems a bit naive for her age and that proves disastrous for the people around her. But I loved reading about Shalini’s foray into village life in Kashmir, so far and different from bustling Bangalore where she’s from. And it’s these little moments that make this book a beautiful and moving one.

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

A book like this just makes me wish I were years younger! When I was a teenager, YA didn’t really exist. And really, pretty much all the books I was reading as a teenager were probably written and starring white people. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of these books I read (especially for school), were great books. I am especially grateful to one of my A-Level English lit teachers for introducing Carol Shields to me. But I hardly remember reading anything with an Asian protagonist. Or if there were Asian characters they tended to be your stereotypical nerdy Asian kids.

So to read this book by Maurene Goo, many years too old for this genre, was with a wistful, oh, if only I could have read this when I was younger. But also a eh, who cares if I’m reading this too late, I’m just glad someone out there is writing this for the young girls of today.

Clara Shin is a prankster. But she takes a prank one step too far and is suspended from school, along with, Rose, the girl she fought with.

Clara’s dad, who owns a food truck selling Korean-Brazilian food, convinces the principal to switch the suspension to having them work on the KoBra for the summer and pay off the damage they caused. And that becomes a life-changing experience for her.

First of all, I love that this book was pretty much a love letter to LA. I have been to LA a few times but I don’t really know it that well, still it was fun to read about places they go to. And while I live in the northern part of CA, where there is a pretty decent variety of food from Asia, it cannot beat LA especially when it comes to East Asian food.

And on that note, a book that features food always makes me happy. I really want to try some kimchi and cheese pasteis. I love kimchi (although I’ve not eaten it with cheese!) and we eat Korean food regularly but I’ve never had Korean-Brazilian food before.

Clara wasn’t easy to like at first. She comes off initially as really immature but as the story progresses, she grows into herself and I really liked being on this journey with her and her friends.

I’m excited to read the rest of Maurene Goo’s books. And whee, she’s got a new one out!

This is my read for East Asian MC for AsianLitBingo

Quincredible Vol 1

A fun read. After a strange meteor shower, Quinn is invulnerable and can’t be hurt. He thinks it’s a lousy superpower at first. Then he meets Glow, who also has a meteor-given superpower and she encourages him to do something to help his community.

I like Quin and how relatable he is, and I like how his parents are a part of the story too. The rest of the diverse cast of superheroes is great too – like Quin, many of them are just trying to figure things out as they go. The villain in this case was a bit forgettable but hopefully in future volumes that can be improved on.

I appreciate how the comic was optimistic and hopeful, and has a great young superhero for our times.

*Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a free ARC of this book*.