Neshama’s Choices for June 5th

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Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes   

Another new crop of an intriguing take on Greek mythology.  We think of Medusa as terrifying but learn as a child of rape (Zeus again) she was taken in by the Gorgon sisters and tenderly raised.  Until Perseus, another figure usually lauded as a hero but here debunked as a callow, narcissistic fellow, needs to seize her head as part of a complicated deal. Haynes gives voice to this large cast of characters, and they really come alive. Speaking of complicated, between the Greek names and the overlapping plots, I sometimes lost track of who needed what from whom. But with treats like being able to eavesdrop on the individual snakes on Medusa’s head, I didn’t care. Amazing.    


Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni  

A charming rom-com with cultural dimension:  queer love tangles within the Armenian-American community. Nareh has a techie fiancé with a tin ear for what she’d like in a lover. When he goes on an extended work trip, her mother seizes the opportunity for her to meet a suitable guy through Explore Armenia, a local Bay Area program. Surprise—she ends up exploring Erebuni, a fascinating, powerful woman who has political and spiritual fingers in many pies. Nareh is a TV broadcaster relegated to fluffy pieces but when she gets fired, she’s launched into her true destiny. Armenian proverbs head each chapter and gave me a look at the written language—I’ve never seen anything like that alphabet.  


The Faraway World by Patricia Engel  

Short stories featuring Latin American immigrants. Engel takes us to NYC, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, and beyond. Her characters speak matter-of-factly about their dilemmas, like how to locate bones stolen from a cemetery, or how a man juggles multiple girlfriends. A first-sentence grabber from the story Guapa: “You would never know by looking at me that I used to be more than double my current weight.” There’s something so satisfying about Engel’s voice; she delivers us right into dicey situations without flourishes—the best kind of storytelling.  It brings that faraway world right up close. Masterful.  


The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma  

Shelly—that’s his American moniker—is like Candide, wide-eyed, optimistic, and ready to launch into the new world of America from China. Hoping that the eponymous groove will deliver smooth sailing. But the San Francisco relatives he counts on to take him in aren’t exactly welcoming because he knew nothing of their reduced circumstances. And his “vocation,”; poetry, won’t cut it financially. He ends up providing care for Henry, an old guy who has a dicey relationship with the rest of the family. A folktale that references the idyllic Peach Blossom Forest underscores the gap between utopia and real life. The book is funny, thoughtful, and endearing in turn, just like Shelly.