This installment: a trickster’s tale (f); Korean women (f); Black, Japanese-American–this gay couple has problems (f); a lesbian Muslim teen has problems (f); and lum dwellers in India fight demolition plans (f).
Editor’s Note: The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with occasional notes made of digital eBook and eAudiobook availability.
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
Though Gaiman’s version of Norse Mythology really aces it, I found this version very entertaining as well, in that we can all use a dose of trickster outrageousness on the page these days (rather than in real life). Loki’s given a contemporary spin, like his frequently interjected “so shoot me” after recounting yet another manipulation and screw up. Epigraphs from the Lokabrenna (his wit and wisdom) that frame each chapter in effect caution us to trust no one, including Loki. He also refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator”—hah! A hoot.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Plastic surgery plays an important role for these women in Seoul. Kyuri achieves a perfect visage but Sujin’s job is botched; they’re room salon girls (refined prostitution). Mute Ara is a hairdresser, Miho is an artist, Wonna seems to have an ordinary domestic life. All these women intersect through work, habitation, and childhood connections. Each chapter brings us background which fleshes out their characters and by the end their stories have developed and coalesced. I don’t get chance to read much from Korea. Here is lots of local color sprinkled with Korean words but the emotions are universal. Fascinating.
Memorial by Bryan Washington
Ben is Black and Mike is Japanese-American.They’ve lived together in Houston for 4 years but their relationship has become strained. Mike learns his estranged father in Japan is very sick and heads off to get to know him before it’s too late. On the very same day Mike’s mother arrives from Japan for a visit. What an uneasy, unhappy turn of events but somehow Ben and Mitsuko eventually arrive at an understanding. We also tune into Mike’s experience in Osaka as he grapples with his father’s alcoholism and pitches in at the dive bar he owns. All parties ultimately discover what they need to know about themselves to make decisions for the future. Reflections on homophobia, cultural divides, and racism are embedded in this compelling story.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
Rukhsana loves Ariana. Her parents don’t know; as conservative Muslims in America, such a revelation would be anathema. She wants to go to Caltech with Ariana next year but these covert plans bite the dust when they discover her secret. Back to Bangladesh they take her. The plan: an arranged marriage. A miserable turn of events, but her grandmother, who had a dark past Rukhsana knew nothing about, offers surreptitious support, as well as a friend from girlhood. Lots of local color and a stunning denouement. A teen book I recommend to everyone.
A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian
Sandwiched between glitzy high rises and the airport in Bangalore, this misnamed slum is slated for demolition. 16 years ago Banu’s grandmother held off the same fate with demonstrations and inside information. But now the bulldozers have arrived one month before expected, creating chaos and fear. Five girls are slated to take exams in the local school run by a fierce, dedicated teacher. Banu is a very talented builder; Deepa is blind and brilliant; Rukhsana and Joy each knows they are not the gender they’ve been assigned. A clueless but dogged foreign photographer documents the scene. Spirit is strong, bonds are deep, and these prevail in the face of such adversity. Rich characterizations and a vivid sense of place.
Back next week.