Fabulous Fiction Firsts #210: Fresh Asian-American Voices

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an inspiring debut , drawn from personal experience about a young immigrant from Hong Kong, who is caught between the pressure to succeed in America, duty to her family, and her own personal desires.

An exceptional student and yet shy and proud, Kimberly Chang and her mother are tricked into back-breaking factory work and living in squalor. In simple, searing, richly detailed prose, Kwok captures the anguish of the struggle, the universal immigrant lament of not fitting in, misunderstanding and cultural disconnect that is wrenching and hilarious at times. Girl is a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love. A good book group choice with reading group guide. Don't miss the author's interesting bio..

Sonya Chung's exquisite debut Long for This World** is a multi-layered story of two brothers, distanced by time and differences. When American surgeon Han Hyun-ku unexpectedly arrives at his younger brother's home in a remote island in South Korean, he leaves behind a floundering marriage and a troubled son. His daughter, Jane, a renowned photojournalist searches for him and they are quickly absorbed into the Korean Han's household where surface tranquility masks dark and volatile undercurrents.

"Moving between landscapes and a variety of perspectives, Chung's ambitious debut explores the intricacies and aggravations of family, culture, and identity." With reading group guide as well.

Sonya Chung is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination, the Charles Johnson Fiction Award, and the Bronx Council on the Arts Writers’ Fellowship & Residency. In fall 2010, Sonya will join the full-time faculty of the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University.

Readalikes: Typical American by Gish Jen for the Asian-American immigrant experience; and The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak for the secrets families keep; and how one "can't go home again".

** = Starred reviews

Al's Book Club for Kids: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

On Friday morning Al Roker, the beloved weather man of NBC's The Today Show, announced his latest pick for Al's Book Club for Kids: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.
"In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest."
Not only is this story a beautiful blend of traditional Chinese folklore themes and characters (keep an eye out for the fabulous talking fish!), it is also a physically beautiful book. Grace Lin's full-color illustrations throughout this tale are intricate and dazzling, and the use of multiple type faces make this journey all the more enchanting. Adult readers will appreciate Lin's author note at the end of the book, where she explains her Asian-American roots and the folktales from her childhood that continue to resonate with her today.
gracelingracelin

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #172

Bich Minh Nguyen's memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner was named one of the 2008 Michigan Notable Books and the Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007. It received the 2008 Kiriyama Prize and the PEN/Jerard Award. It has been selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the current The Great Michigan Read.

In Nguyen's fiction debut Short Girls, narrators (in alternate chapters) Van and Linny Leong, estranged sisters who have chosen divergent paths since their latch-key days, returned home to celebrate their father’s U.S. citizenship and his reality TV debut to demo the Leong Arm - an invention for short people.

With keen insight, humor and compassion, the author examines what it means to be short – from stature, identity, expectations, ambition, to the distance between us. Beautifully written and expertly told, this is ultimately a universal tale about sisterhood; the cultural and family history that binds us; and the rights to set the standard by which we are measured.

Readers of women's fiction on the theme of sibling relationships might also enjoy The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, or Julia Alvarez's wonderful portrayal of the immigrant experience in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. For pure entertainment value - there is nothing more delightful than Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes.

* = Starred Reviews.

An Enduring Gift of Art

Traverwood PaintingTraverwood Painting

If you have visited the Traverwood Branch, it is likely that you would have admired the still life painting near the program/playroom. It is the work of longtime U-M professor Mignonette Cheng who died April 23rd at the age of 76. (See news article). The painting is a gift of the Ladies Library Association.

A gifted artist, a respected educator and a gracious individual, Professor Cheng will be greatly missed. You can see more online images of her recent work and check out her Watercolors of Italy (the catalog from her one-woman show at the University of Michigan Museum of Art ) in the library's collection.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #145

Fans of NPR-Books shouldn't miss first-novelist Jamie Ford's interview and discussion of his Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Set in Seattle 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, amidst mounting racial tension and the frenzy of Japanese Americans' relocation, is the heartwarming story of Henry Lee, his first love Keiko Okabe and their shared passion for jazz.

For a closer look at this chapter in our shared history, see the Manzanar Series - images captured by Ansel Adams. Readers might also try Sandra Dallas' Tallgrass, a vivid portrayal of life in the internment camps and how they, forever altered our cultural landscape.

Also recommended is Disappearing Moon Cafe by Sky Lee, "...a feisty, complex, and award-winning first novel" - an intimate look at the many facets of Chinatown USA.

Read more about Jamie Ford from his website and the Panama Hotel on which the title is based. For book groups, a discussion guide is available.

Happy Birthday Ang Lee!

Ang LeeAng Lee

Born October 23, 1954 in Pingtung, Taiwan, Ang Lee has become one of today's greatest contemporary filmmakers. Stop by the AADL and browse our collection of his movies. For laughs try The Wedding Banquet (1993). For love and relationships choose Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) or Lee's version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1995). For drama try The Ice Storm (1997) or Ride With The Devil (1999). For action try Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or Hulk (2003). For an Academy Award Winner, try Lee's heartbreaker Brokeback Mountain (2005). Fans of espionage and thrillers should check out Lee's most recent release Lust, Caution (2007). Taking Woodstock, Lee's latest project, is currently in production.

A BOCD for grade-school readers and families

Meet Pacy, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, as she navigates The Year of the Dog, making best friends and finding herself. As I listened, I liked the accents, the stories from Pacy's elders, the cultural interplay at school and home, and of course the happy ending. The author, Grace Lin, apparently longed for a book like this when she was growing up.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #121

Wendy Lee's accomplished debut Happy Family* explores the immigrant experience and what it means to belong.

Hua Wu exchanges proverty in Fuzhou with loneliness and back-breaking restaurant work in New York City. Meeting Jane Templeton and her adopted Chinese daughter, Lily, seems a stroke of good fortune, especially when she was asked to nanny. But things are not quite what they seem...

Fans of Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land, and National Book Award winner Ha Jin's latest - A Free Life will find Wendy's debut a compelling read.

Wendy Lee is a graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program. She lives in New York City.

* = Starred Reviews

A Divided Life

In Secondhand World,the first novel by Katherine Min, first person narrator, Isa Myung Hee looks back at her life as a Korean-American teenager while recovering from burns in a tragic fire that killed her parents. Isa, daughter of successful but aloof first generation Koreans, alienated from her parents and the target of racial prejudice at school, is drawn to an albino outsider named "Hero." It is only when she discovers her mother's affair that she questions her rejection of her heritage.

Publisher's Weekly calls the story "a swirling, textured and beautifully detailed web of perception..."

For teen novels that explore similar themes, try the novels of Marie Lee, and the books, American Eyes, stories edited by Lori Carlson and Girls for Breakfast by David Yoo.

American Born Chinese & The Monkey King

Cleverly interweaving stories tell the tales of Jin Wang, a teen who meets with ridicule and social isolation when his family moves from San Francisco's Chinatown to an exclusively white suburb; Danny, a popular blond, blue-eyed high school jock whose social status is jeopardized when his goofy, embarrassing Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee, enrolls at his high school; and the Monkey King who, unsatisfied with his current sovereign, desperately longs to be elevated to the status of a god. Exploring issues of self-image, cultural identity, transformation, and self-acceptance American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a rare treat.

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