Posted in General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Publication Info: Published June 2, 2020 by Penguin Audio. I listened to this book through my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: Twins Stella and Desiree were born and raised in a small black community called Mallard, Louisiana. After their father was killed when they were young children, their mother did what she could to keep a roof over their heads. But when the girls were told they had to leave school at sixteen to help their mother clean and take in laundry, they ran away from home.

The people in their hometown of Mallard pride themselves on their light skin. The lighter a person is, the more you are held in esteem. Stella and Desiree are both so light, they could pass for white. That is what Stella decides to to do. Stella walks away from her twin, her family and her past in order to be a white woman and live a white woman’s life. Desiree has a relationship with a dark-skinned man and comes out of it with a very dark skinned daughter, Jude. When she returns to Mallard, this sets her and her daughter apart from the rest of the town.

After Jude leaves home, she briefly sees a woman who looks just like her mother. This sets her on a search that will stir up the past and unsettle several lives.

Comments: The Vanishing Half deftly and stunningly handles the subjects of race, skin color and identity. I was completely drawn into the novel, listening into the wee hours of the morning for several nights. The narration by Shayna Small greatly added to the experience. She did a wonderful job with the voices.

Before reading this book, I realized that there is discrimination among colored peoples for skin tone, not only with Blacks, but other races and cultures, too. But as a white woman, this has always been a vague concept. The Vanishing Half taught me some valuable lessons about skin color and identity. I’d love to see this book on required school reading lists. The Vanishing Half is an astounding work of literature for the twenty-first century.

My Rating: 5+ Stars, A+

Posted in General Fiction, Legal Fiction, Legal Mystery, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Publication Info: Published April 16th 2019 by Sarah Crichton Books. I listened to the audio edition. Other editions available.

Summary: For several families, hope lies in a blue hyperbaric chamber. The owner of the device, Pak Yoo, brought his wife and teenage daughter from South Korea in search of a better life. He promotes the hyperbaric chamber as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from autism to impotence.

When a deliberately set fire kills two of the children, suspicion initially falls on a group of protestors. But the police arrest Elizabeth, the mother of one of the victims. As the novel progresses, it is clear that the case isn’t quite as simple as the prosecution portrays.

Comments: Miracle Creek is an astonishingly complex and insightful novel. The author employs omnicient narration to peer deeply into the lives and motivations of everyone involved with the hyperbaric chamber. While the story line is centered around Elizabeth’s trial, the author skillfully weaves in the various events that lead to the fire. The reader’s sympathies and emotions are pulled in various directions as evidence unfolds.

Because the author is also a Korean immigrant, she is able to write with deep understanding about the experience the Yoo family had in coming to America. I found this part of the story particularly enlightening.

Highly recommended for readers of general fiction, multicultural fiction, legal fiction and mysteries.

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Women's Fiction

The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Publication Info: Published May 14, 2019 by Knopf. Hardback edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: On a summer day in northern Russia, two young sisters vanish without a trace. One witness remembers seeing the girls with a white man and a dark car, but no one, including the police, has any solid evidence that the girls were kidnapped. The local investigators are taking the case very seriously but have few leads.

Several years previously another girl vanished, but the police didn’t investigate her disappearance as vigorously. After all, she was older, had a bit of a reputation and she was a native.

After the sisters disappear, the townspeople are on edge. The uneasy truce that exists between the natives and whites flares up as people look at each other with suspicion. Old-timers mourn the changes to Russia that brought strangers to the area. Mothers keep a closer watch on their children and don’t allow them to roam freely. People scurry to be home before dark–even though the girls vanished in broad daylight. It is a natural reaction to hide and become isolated after trauma. But it is only when people start to come back together and ask each other questions that the truth emerges.

Comments: While a mystery is at the core of The Disappearing Earth, the novel is about much more than that. It is the story of a changing community and vanishing cultures. Isolated from the world until 1990, the people of Kamchatka are still adjusting to intrusions from the outside world. In the novel, the big black car is more than the vehicle that snatches two unwary girls; it is a symbol of change and uncertainty.

It took me longer than I expected to get through this book. I found it emotionally draining, so I had to occasionally step away. Through vivid imagery, the novel focuses primarily on the ordinary lives of the women in the town. Their hopes and dreams are exposed and dashed. Fear and uncertainty drives them to make the safe choices in their lives. I found myself reflecting on the choices I make in my own life—and why I make them.

Recommended for readers of Literary Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Women’s Fiction

My Rating 4.5 STARS

Posted in 20th Century, Asian, Cultural, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Publication Info: Published February 19th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. E-book edition provided by NetGalley. Other editions available.Daughter of Molokai

Summary: In the Kapi’olani Home for Girls on O’ahu, three-year-old Ruth is a lively handful. Ruth loves animals and wants a pet of her own. But as loving as the nuns in the Catholic orphanage are, they must maintain the strict rules and can’t allow Ruth to be an exception.

But Ruth is already an exception in the Hawaiian orphanage. While all the other girls are also children of lepers, they are of pure Hawaiian heritage.  Ruth is different. She is hapa, someone of mixed heritage. Ruth is half Japanese, born to her parents who met in the leper colony on Moloka’i. When potential adoptive parents meet her, they turn away, not wanting to take on a child who not only carries the stigma of leprosy but is also hapa.

Finally, a Japanese couple adopts Ruth. She becomes Ruth Dai Watanabe and lives with her two brothers and new parents in Chinatown. She learns to speak Japanese and is taught their customs. Ruth thrives in the love of her adoptive family, but she is still hapa.

The novel follows Ruth as her family moves to California. There she grows up and has a family of her own. But after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruth and all the other people of Japanese descent on the west coast are rounded up in concentration camps or sent back to Japan. After the camps are closed, Ruth and her family return to California to try to put their lives back together. It is after going through all this that Ruth gets a surprise and finally learns to accept her heritage.

Comments: I absolutely loved the first Moloka’i book and wasn’t disappointed by this sequel, Daughter of Moloka’i. While the first takes place almost exclusively on the island, this one reflects the changes in the treatment of lepers, both socially and medically, and moves to the greater world. A large portion of the book takes place in the Japanese internment camps and from the resources listed in the back of the book, I know the descriptions and details were well researched. In writing about Ruth’s mixed heritage and the atrocity of rounding up the Japanese Americans (and not rounding up the German Americans, for example), the author makes some profound observations of what it’s like to be non-white in America. What happened to the Japanese is not “in the past”. It happened and continues to happen to Native Americans, Blacks and currently to Hispanics and others. Fear and ignorance are powerful forces that destroy people’s lives.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Literary Fiction.

Posted in 20th Century, Asian, China, Cultural, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

Will of a Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Info: Published January 28, 2019 by Open Books. Paperback or Kindle editions available.

Summary:  Birch Bai, a Chinese Air Force Pilot and Danny Hardy, an American Flying Tiger, are engaged in a fierce air battle with the Japanese when their plane is shot down. Both men are captured and sent to a POW camp.  At the camp, they and their fellow prisoners continue to suffer at the hands of their cruel, tormenting captors. The war is coming to an end; the Americans have just dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. But this just spurs one Japanese officer, a man they call the Jackal, to further atrocities. The men in the camp are just starting to bond with each other when the Jackal culls the group, telling him they must choose which seven of the fourteen will die. Will of a Tiger

Danny and Birch argue over which of them will make the sacrifice. In an act of supreme sacrifice and courage, Danny ensures it is Birch who will survive.

After the war, Birch must not only wrestle with the result of his physical injuries but the emotional pain of losing his best friend. He feels he is to blame for Danny’s death. As he recovers and gains strength, he faces new enemies as his country splits in two over Communism.

Comments: Iris Yang poured her heart into Will of a Tiger and breathed life into the characters. As a result, I got so caught up in their lives that I cried toward the end of the book–something I don’t do often with a novel. I have read other accounts of how China was torn apart during the Communist takeover, but none from this point of view. National heroes turned into enemies overnight because of politics. Reading this outstanding spotlight on one man’s life also gave me new insights into China today. With her second novel, the author has once again raised my awareness and knowledge. As I wrote in my review of  Wings of a Flying Tiger, “It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other….”

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Asian Fiction and anyone with a heart.

I wish to thank the Open Books Book Reviewer Program for the opportunity to read this book. They publish some absolutely wonderful novels and non-fiction.

Posted in Best Sellers, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Women's Fiction

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

Publication Info: Published September 1, 2018 by Brilliance Audio. Other editions available. (I listened to the book from Audible.com).

The Storyteller's Secret

The Storyteller’s Secret is a novel about obligation, family duty,  and love in it’s many forms. Although the story takes place in India, the themes are universal.

Jaya, an American woman of Indian descent, travels to India to discover her past and heal some deep hurts from her childhood as well as recover emotionally from three miscarriages. In India, she meets Ravi, her grandmother Amisha’s servant and dear friend. He tells her a story that helps explain Jaya’s mother’s odd behavior. The story also puts Jaya’s troubles in perspective and helps her to heal.

I was deeply drawn into this novel, spending too much time lying awake listening to it instead of sleeping! The author did a credible job of describing rural India in the waning days of British rule. The characters were sympathetic and came to life on the pages. Although I could see one plot line coming from a long way off, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Indeed, I was compelled to keep reading to see how it would play out and affect the outcome for the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for fans of general fiction, historical fiction and multi-cultural fiction.

Posted in Cultural, Fiction, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Korea, Multi-Cultural Fiction

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

Publicaton Info: November 6th 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Pre-pub Kindle edition courtesy of Eidelweiss+ by Above the Treeline.

Summary: Four-year-old Inja lives with her uncle, aunt, grandparents and a small household staff in Korea. Rumors of an invasion, of impending war, swirl around. Her Uncle is concerned and follows the news and — the much more accurate — rumors closely. But Inja’s head is full of dreamy visions of her mysterious family in America. Inja knows she has a mother, father and a sister who live far away. They regularly send her packages with toys, food and clothing. She has heard all her life that someday she will go live with her family in America, but there is always another reason for a delay.The Kinship of Secrets

Nearly five-year-old Miran lives with her parents in America. Her father, Calvin, works as Korean translator and does Voice of America broadcasts. He is also a minister at the Korean church. Her mother, Najin, doesn’t speak English well, so Miran communicates for her when they run errands. She helps her mother assemble and mail the boxes to her mysterious “sister in Korea”.

The novel continues in alternating chapters about the lives of both families. Inja grows up in war-torn Korea in a loving, but impoverished home. Miran’s family lives in typical post-WWII middle-class America. On the surface, the lives of the two girls have little in common. But as Inja matures and learns more about her family’s hidden history, she realizes that sometimes secrets don’t tear people apart; sometimes they are a powerful force that can bind people together.

Comments: Overall, I liked this book and enjoyed reading it. At first, I found the writing and observations to be simplistic, but the story’s voice matured as the main narrator, Inja, did. The novel spans several decades and sometimes short-changes periods in the character’s lives. I realize this was done to keep the book to a manageable length, but it just felt awkward.

The real depth of the book, obviously the most emotional part for the author, comes toward the end of the story and in the author’s notes. These sections bumped the book up a few notches for me. The author draws inspiration for The Kinship of Secrets from her own family.

Recommended for readers of general, multi-cultural and historical fiction.

Posted in Europe, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War I

House of Gold by Natasha Solomons

Publication Information: Pre-Pub Kindle edition, October 23, 2018 by G.P. Putnam sons. Pre-pub courtesy of First to Read. Originally published by Cornerstone Books, May 3, 2018.

Summary: Nicknamed the House of Gold, the Goldbaum’s Palace in Vienna, Austria in the early 20th century is an extraordinary display of wealth. The white limestone edifice trimmed in gold gilt, inside and out, gleams in the sunlight. At night, electric lights, a fairly new innovation, shine through the windows like beacons. The Goldbaums eat the finest foods and throw opulent parties. Beggars and street urchins feed themselves from the Goldbaums’ scraps.

The Goldbaums are a family of powerful bankers. With offices in the major cities in Europe, they hold enormous power and wealth. Governments come to them for loans. And yet, they are not completely trusted by other powerful banking families. The Goldbaums are outsiders because they are Jewish.House of Gold

The patriarch of the Vienna family needs an heir to continue the family name and tradition. He has two children; a son, Otto, and a daughter, Greta. Otto is expected to learn and take over the business. Greta is expected to provide the heir. An arrangement is made for her to marry Albert Goldbaum, a distant cousin.

Greta chafes at this. An impetuous, impish free spirit from early girlhood, Greta refuses to fit the mold of societal expectations. Albert, much more conservative, doesn’t know what to do with his wife and simply ignores her with barely concealed distaste.

As the world starts changing around them and the foundations of the old ways of life begin cracking and shifting, Greta and Albert begin to find common ground.  But war breaks out and they are once again pulled apart, their lives irrevocably changed.

Comments: House of Gold is a gentle, genteel family saga with memorable, fully-realized characters. It also drives home the harsh realities of poverty, war and anti-Semitism. I became increasingly emotionally involved in the book as I read—much more than I expected at its beginning.

Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and family sagas. I think this book would also make a great period piece film or a Masterpiece-style mini-series.

Posted in China, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II, Young Adult

Wings of a Flying Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Date: May 2018 by Open Books

Summary: Jasmine Bai, a university student, leaves the relative security of her uncle’s house in Chungking to find her parents in Nanking. It is 1937 and the Japanese are reported near the Republic of China’s capital. Having already ravaged Peking and Shanghai, the Japanese army is headed to Nanking. Jasmine fears for the safety of her parents, both esteemed educators. Her father, Professor Bai, with his fluency in Japanese, is confident that he could help communicate with the invaders and protect the university.Wings of a Flying Tiger

When Jasmine arrives at her parents’ home, it is too late. Her parents are dead, and Nanking is in complete chaos. She takes refuge in a safety zone, a church, directed by Father John, a priest from the United States. But safety zones mean little to the Japanese and she is forced to flee again…and again. The Japanese are constantly looking for soldiers in hiding and “prostitutes”—basically any very pretty, young woman. The first they kill; the second they capture and rape.

Father John arranges for a disguise for Jasmine and gets her out of the city. It is believed to be safer in the countryside. But when an American airman, a Flying Tiger, crashes near the remote village where she is staying, the Japanese are determined to find him—and will destroy anyone they believe to be even remotely involved in his survival.

Comments: Wings of a Flying Tiger is much more than Jasmine’s story. Told with a direct, sympathetic style, it is an agonizing depiction of the Japanese atrocities in China during World War II. Personally, I never knew much about this part of the war. My childhood studies focused on the United States’ war with Japan, but barely mentioned China. I am grateful to the author for educating me about this period of China’s history. The horrors tore at my soul, now more than 80 years distanced. It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other in war.

The author was born and raised in China and drew from her parents’ and grandmother’s experiences in the war. An interview with the author can be found here.

Highly recommended.  This book is suitable for adults and older young adults.

 

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

Beneath the Same Heaven by Anne Marie Ruff

Publication date, March 20, 2018 by Open Books.

Summary: In a Dubai nightclub, a blond American journalist named Kathryn meets Rashid Siddique, a darkly handsome Pakistani man. Each is looking to step out of the proscribed boundaries of their lives. As their lives and passions rapidly interweave, they try on each other’s customs to see how well they fit.  Beneath the Same Heaven

After Kathryn experiences fasting during Ramadan and expresses an interest in meeting his family in Pakistan, Rashid proposes to her. Soon she is tossed into a whirlwind of people and wedding customs that are exotically foreign and exciting.  Kathryn works hard at feeling what it is like to be Pakistani.

Rashid has ducked his parents’ traditional matchmaking efforts for years. He is fiercely loyal to his Muslim religion, family and clan, but he wants to walk his own path in the world. After a traditional Pakistani wedding, the newlyweds head to America. Rashid gleefully experiences American freedoms, life in California and consumerism.

Rashid’s engineering degree and FBI clearance qualify him for work on an oil rig. Kathryn writes for a local journal. Together they have two sons, Michael and Andrew,  five years apart. They are living the American dream until the day that Rashid’s father is killed by an American drone attack while at a wedding on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

Rashid finds himself caught between his centuries-old religious, cultural, family and clan loyalties and his love for his American family. He is also heavily pressured by outside forces, men who want him to use his skills and connections to get revenge on the Americans for their attack on innocent Pakistani civilians. Rashid’s final, heart-wrenching decision has repercussions that affect both his American and Pakistani families for the rest of their lives.

Comments: Beneath the Same Heaven is a deeply compassionate and very plausible contemporary novel. It is a rare book that makes me cry, but I sobbed apologetically at one point in the story. If I could get a magic fairy to give me three wishes right now, one wish would be that this book be required reading for those with closed minds and hardened hearts; that reading this book could be a step toward understanding and peace.  But alas, I stopped believing in magic fairies long ago.

For more background information on this novel, see the interview with the author here on Book Glow.

5 out of 5 books. 5 out of 5 books