This installment: a bizarre thriller (f); difficult doings on either side of the border (f); difficult doings for a Middle Eastern immigrant family (f); ditto for a family from Taiwan in Alaska (f); a fictional take on performance artist Abramovic (f); and an exchange student from far north Russia in Louisiana.
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
What a bizarre thriller this is. You know that chain letter: don’t break it or else? In this case the “or else” is the death of your child who’s been kidnapped. By another parent who orders/pleads with you to find another victim so your child will be freed. Pretty farfetched, especially since this perfectly nice mother turns into a fierce and canny kidnapper herself. And who’s behind this scheme? Well we finally find out—whew—and it’s white knuckles all the way as long as you suspend disbelief.
Where We Come From by Oscar Casares
Olly (Orlando) is shipped to his godmother Nina in Brownsville, TX, right across the border. He loves her, mourns his newly dead mother, and is frustrated by the limits Nina puts on him. Turns out she got roped into doing a “favor” for her housekeeper and now has a rotating passel of undocumented immigrants hiding in the vacant house on her mother’s property. Mother is old and needs care; Nina had put her independent life on hold to do so. At one point the coyotes get arrested, the latest batch deported, but one kid Olly’s age manages to escape and then what to do with him? Thoughtful and atmospheric.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Oh that Pasha family. The three siblings: Isma in America, Aneeka in London, and her twin brother Parvaiz, at loose ends and ripe for the the picking by an extremist organization. Doesn’t help that mother is dead and so is dad who died for that very cause. Parvaiz has second thoughts and wants to return; his sister falls in with the son of an official who might help. Is it love or manipulation? A tragic ending worthy of a Middle Eastern epic poem, and a reflection of the terrible tangle of religion, politics, and immigration that’s currently making many of us crazy. Mesmerizing, saddening.
The Unpassing by Cia-Chia Lin
It took me awhile to connect with this book; it was hard to conceive of this Taiwanese immigrant family in Alaska but I eventually fell under its peculiar spell. Three siblings; the youngest, Ruby, has died. The father is a mess with a lawsuit hanging over his head; the mother is fierce and volatile, the kids are often at large in this dangerous setting. When they lose their house they go off on a bizarre “vacation,” but a deus ex machina saves them. Haunting.
The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
A novel inspired by Marina Abramovic and her amazing installation at MOMA in NYC in 2010 which invited participants to sit across from her for however long they wanted. It was a sensation for both those directly involved and those observing. Among them: Arky, a musician whose current project is stalled; Jane, a high school art teacher from the South, visiting for two weeks and deep in grief; Brittika, Dutch, punk, with pink hair; and Healayas, a beautiful black radio commentator. Their stories unfold and intertwine. Also “present” is Danica, the outspoken ghost of Marina’s mother. I’ve always been fascinated by Abramovic (check out the DVD about her, The Artist is Present) and this book adds one more welcome look into her compelling, original power.
Lights On All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
The title refers to life next to an oil refinery and Ilya knows all about it, first in his home town in the far north of Russian and then in Louisiana where he goes as a high school exchange student. The big shadow: his brother Vladimir, trickster and screw up, who has confessed to three murders. Ilya tries to exonerate Vlad with the help of Sadie, his host family’s oldest daughter and their exhaustive internet searches. Lots of local color, dark humor, and emotion. A very satisfying read.
Back next week.