This installment: albino, transgender–a complicated life (nf); an educational miracle (nf); teenagers and ghosts in Japan (f); post-WWII in a fishing village in Naples (f); weirdly delicious short stories (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.
Fairest by Meredith Talusan
You want intersectionality? Here it is, in spades. The author, who is albino, started as Marc in the Philippines and ended up as Meredith in the USA. So many layers: being taken for white, coming into gay male identity at Harvard, confusing and complicated relationships with men. Finally a steady, supportive partner (older, rich, kind, even titled) but that dissolved when Talusan transitioned. Horrid parents: absent father, mother addicted to gambling who sent Talusan to live with a loving but clueless grandmother in the country but reclaimed her when she became a child star in a TV sitcom though she often left her alone. The author is very frank about her sexual history and has a lot to say about race, class, and gender, which sometimes wore me out. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and that’s why I’m sharing it.
Kid Quixotes by Stephen Hoff
Subtitled A Group of Students, Their Teacher, and the One-Room School Where Everything is Possible. The project: a mixed age bunch of kids from a downtrodden neighborhood in Brooklyn embark on a five year study of this huge classic, in Spanish, and come up with a traveling theater piece which incorporates their interpretations and their own stories of migration and questing. Hoff started small, with other classics, after he’d burned out of public school teaching. He took a 2-year break back home to Canada to get a grip on his bipolar condition and when he returned, the kids were waiting. What an atmosphere of cooperation, respect, and listening emerged—a lesson of what’s possible for us all. Very heart-lifting.
The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan
Miwako’s suicide spotlights the hidden distress which her best friend and would-be boyfriend Ryu knew nothing about. Mysterious Miwako presents as cool; she’s an orphan like him. Ryu’s older sister Fumi also has a secret—she’s trans. Ryu travels to the small village where Miyako died to learn more. Turns out there are “wandering spirits” afoot, shape-shifters. He can interact with them, a legacy from his father who was a temple priest. The telling is straight-forward—Ryu’s 16—which makes all these supernatural events seem plausible. Very haunting.
Sea of Memory by Erri de Luca
Our nameless protagonist lives for summers in a fishing village in Naples, a contrast to his city life. It’s the ‘50s with the after-effects of wartime palpable but never discussed. Tagging along with his older brother’s friends, he meets Caia, finds out she’s Jewish, and learns much more about the horrors of WWII. The tutelage he gets from fishing with his uncle and spending time with Caia who tells him he reminds of her dead father, plus hormonal changes, make for a huge growth spurt. This is a slim, intense book with a powerful ending.
And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
Subtitled Stories and Other Revenges. Sparks hits just the right tone for these troubled times: ironic, fierce, and deadpan funny. A combination of myth, fairytales and very contemporary apocalyptic, technological concerns. Like the mother who creates graphic dioramas of saints’ martyrdoms, a trailer park ghost—they don’t only haunt rich people, or the wealthy man who tries to obliterate every trace of his dead wife by chopping up her piano (hence the axe on the book’s cover). All the stories pack a punch though some are only two pages long. Weirdly delicious.
See you next week.