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Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

The book in three sentences: As sisters Van and Linny grew up, they also grew apart. To take care of their father, they must learn to reconcile their differences. Short Girls is as much a novel about complicated familial relationships as it is about the immigrant family experience.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long (no spoilers): Short Girls is a unique story about the challenges of growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American in the United States. Although the pacing is slow and the characters are not particularly likable, I enjoyed the book because I saw some of my childhood and my friends’ childhoods reflected in this novel.

The story is told through both Van and Linny’s perspectives, each chapter alternating between the two sisters. The more you read, the more you begin to develop a fuller understanding– a more complete picture– of what is going on in their family. I liked this narrative technique because both characters have an opportunity to speak or stand up for themselves, and also offer an outsider’s view of the other.

As the title implies, Van and Linny are short girls. Their father is overly obsessed by this, and when they were young would constantly remind them that there were plenty of famous short people and if they worked hard to prove themselves, they could be well-off too. It doesn’t take long to work out that the sisters’ lack of height is a proxy for their lack of whiteness. Van herself makes the connection when she comments that being Vietnamese in Michigan is like being short in a room full of tall people.

Continue reading “Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen”

Review: Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

The book in two sentences: This collection of short stories centers around the lives of Haitian women, across space and time, in a dialogue about identity, autonomy, suffering, and strength. It is a thematically “heavy” conversation, and gives the reader an opportunity to sit in their discomfort.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): What I enjoy most about short story collections is trying to figure out how each story connects to the others. Sometimes these connections are obvious, and other times they are more obscure.

At its core, Krik? Krak! is about the lives and deaths of Haitian women, their communities, whether real or imagined, and their relationship with violence. There are times when characters from one store appear, however briefly, in another, or when a character in one story alludes to a character in a another story. There are also a number of crosscutting themes throughout the book—self-preservation, how identity is strongly tethered to a place, the power in ancestral lineage—that surface frequently.

One theme that stood out to me was the rendering of time. It is difficult to know when exactly Danticat’s stories take place and over what period of time (e.g., days? weeks? months?). This gives a sense that these stories (and subsequently the violence, pain, suffering, and hope) are both eternal and fleeting. I haven’t quite decided what that means yet, but perhaps in my next reading of Krik? Krak! I can tackle that question.

Have you read this book or another by Danticat? What did you think? Comment below!

Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

The book in two sentences: Nadifa Mohamed weaves a beautiful and haunting tale of life in a Somalian city as the country is on the brink of civil war. As refugees, soldiers, and rebels pour in, the lives of three women—a widow, an orphan, and a soldier—are bound forever.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers): In her novel, Mohamed captures the senselessness of war from the perspective of ordinary people. Even Filsan, the soldier, has never been in combat before and is more a civilian in that sense than the widow Kawsar and even the young orphan girl Deqo, both of whom have lost their families to the growing political turmoil.

You see the buildup towards what will eventually become a civil war from the viewpoint of these three women. The increased presence of soldiers and checkpoints, the arrests of students, the kidnapping and killing of intellectuals, the banning of outside news outlets and journalists, the rationing of food and water, all signs of an increasingly totalitarian government. If you are wondering how things can even get this far, this book begins to answer that question, and it is equal parts compelling and terrifying.

Continue reading “Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed”

Currently reading: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

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