Neshama’s Choices for July 4

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Seeking Fortune Elsewhere

Short stories that explore many facets of the immigrant experience, both in the U.S.A and back in India. The epigraph speaks of the “sadness of geography.” As in “Three Trips” where mother and daughter travel to India. Where the (unnamed) daughter meets her age-mate cousin, Padma, for the first time. After a rocky beginning, they become “sisters.” Padma eventually gets to L.A., but by then the branches of the family have become estranged. An attempted visit is a humiliating experience but when the daughter connects with Padma’s fragile father on her first solo trip to India, she tries to heal the breach with reminiscence and fantasy, offering a description of Padma’s present life in glowing terms. In just one very short story, many layers of culture, aspirations, and disappointments are anatomized with delicate precision. 

Companion Piece

Nobody does it like Smith. She weaves mythology, history, and story into text that invited me in with simple immediacy—a magic trick. The story part: Martina, whom Sandy (aka Sand) knew in student days, gets back in touch.  She has something urgent and mysterious to share, since Sand was so helpful back then, involving the words curlew and curfew. The bird and the law come into play, the former accompanying a time traveling girl, the latter reflecting the strictures of Covid regulations. Martina’s entitled, dense offspring end up occupying Sand’s house, so she must stay at her father’s while he’s in the hospital clinging to life. Sand is an artist, thickly layering words from poems into her paintings. Hard for me to sum this up coherently, but it all makes wonderful “sense.” A treasure.  

Big Familia

That’s what 18-year-old Stella names the email thread that connects her with dad, Juan, and mom, Betsy, when she heads off to LA. Juan is gay. Betsy got pregnant very young when they were experimenting with kinky relationships in the ‘70s. They made a go of it, devoted to Stella, parted 12 years later but have stayed close. Juan, self-employed, spends lots of time in the local bar—a community of sorts. He connects with Jared but is leery of commitment though they’re very compatible. East Bay setting, BIPOC elements—Jared is Black, Juan is brown, neighborhood is gentrifying. Most important: love, no matter how imperfect. Heart-warming. 

Tastes Like War

That’s what Cho’s mother said about powdered milk which she had to drink in Korea as a child. Food plays an important role in this memoir: the dishes from home, the new foods in America where she arrived as a merchant marine’s wife, and refusing to eat when she was gripped by schizophrenia.  Cho toggles between the years, from her mother’s miserable early life in Korea under various occupations and her new one in Chehalis, WA, Dad’s home town. Neither mother nor daughter fit in, with Mom trying to be the perfect wife until the disease subsumed her and Cho getting as far away as possible into academia. The book delves into issues of societal ills, immigration, mental illness, and the stress of loving someone increasingly out of reach. Deep feeling and clear exposition—very rewarding (if sad).