Book Review | The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

refugeesAuthour:
Viet Thanh Nguyen
Format:
ARC, 440 pages
Publication date:
February 7th 2017
Publisher:
Grove Press
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
You may have heard of the writer, Viet Thanh Nguyen from his Pulitzer (and other prizes/awards) winning debut novel The Sympathizer. And while the synopsis of The Sympathizer didn’t truly appeal to me, I was looking forward to The Refugees as my introduction to his writing.

The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories that have previously been published before in some form. While all the stories are stand-alones they share the common themes of family, identity, love and often how the characters’ lives were either directly or indirectly affected by the Vietnam War (known as the “American” War by numerous Vietnamese people).

Though I am of Vietnamese descent, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born into a somewhat privilege background, however reading stories concerning those who fled South Vietnam made me re-examine my parents struggles.  While I could not relate to some of their experiences there were several other elements of the stories that I could relate to. For instance, my family knew people who owned convenience stores and tailor shops and the story, The Transplant gave me chills as my father was a recipient of an anonymous organ donation. Lastly the sisters’ relationship in Fatherland is vaguely reminiscent of the relationship that I have with my sister albeit we were both born in Canada.

Of all the stories, Someone Else Besides You and Fatherland both of which are stories where the fathers play a major role are the ones that stood out to me as the most memorable ones. Though, regardless of my personal preference each of the eight stories in The Refugees are thought provoking and emotionally powerful contributions to this collection of stories that excels in its observation of human experiences.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Words of Asia | In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar

WOA

For a listing of the links to all the other review posts for the Words of Asia blog event click here.

About the Authour:
Mia Alvar is a writer who currently lives in New York City. She was born in the Philippines and raised in Bahrain and the United States. In the Country is her first book.inthecountry

Where Does it Take Place?
Like the Filipino diaspora, these stories take place anywhere from the USA to the Middle East which gives readers a look at how different the immigrant experience is as well as the common thread between all their experiences despite ending up in different countries with different cultures.

What’s it About:
In the Country, is a collection of nine short stories about the Filipino diaspora. These are women and men who are starting their lives in countries all over the world.

My Thoughts:
Usually with short stories collection there are some stories I love and others I don’t love. However, with Mia Alvar’s In the Country I found that I love pretty much most of the stories in the collection. Each of the stories is more captivating than the previous one. The stories, themselves have a lot of substance, and are extremely thought provoking. The recurring theme in In the Country is that there’s so much more to people and situations then you may see at first glimpse.

With so many choices to choose from, I’d have to say my favourite of the collection would probably be, The Miracle Worker story which is an exceptionally well written story about a woman who is hired to teach severely handicapped girl. As a result of her encounter with the girl and the girl’s mother she starts to doubt her marriage and what she wants in life. I loved the story for the message it imparts on the reader at the end. Additionally, I enjoyed reading Legends of the White Lady because it mixes a traditional ghost story with the contemporary story of a foreign model in Philippines. What I loved most about this book was reading about all the Filipino people living all over the world and the lives they lead, as these stories are the ones that I don’t often hear about or come across as often in the books I tend to read.

You’ll like this book, if you love:
Stories about the immigrant experience, and not just of those who have immigrated to North America but those who have moved to countries that you may not expect them to.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Nevertheless, regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Authour:opplone
Marina Keegan
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 208 pages
Publication date:
April 8th 2014
Publisher:
Scribner
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness. but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”

You may have heard of Marina Keegan if you’ve read or stumbled upon her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness” which was published in The Yale Daily New. I loved that essay so much as it was so poignant and well written in addition to resonating with much of what I was feeling as I prepared to graduate and move onto the next step in my life. It was that piece of writing that inspired me to pick up this collection of essays and short stories written by her. Unfortunately Marina died in a car accident in 2012 so this is probably the only collection we’ll get of her writing.

The collection starts with her famous essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness” which I think those of us who are students would find relatable. The rest of the collection is then divided into two sections, “Fiction” which consists of her short stories and “Non-Fiction” which are her essays. I went in more excited to read her essays, but in the end, I actually enjoyed her short stories much more although I did find her non-fiction writing to be extremely compelling, honest and at times heartbreaking. My favourite one was “Song for the Special”, a piece which I thought was the perfect choice to send this wonderful collection. As for her short stories, they were simple yet had much depth within them; I especially enjoyed the first short story titled, “Cold Pastoral”. This story, though initially seemed like a typical story about a woman grieving the death of her boyfriend turns out to be a much more complicated look at human relationships and love. All in all, this was an interesting collection of both fiction and non-fiction writing that I think is worth checking out.

If you like this book, you’ll love: So Much A Part of You by Polly Dugan

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Early Book Review | So Much a Part of You by Polly Dugan

Authour:somuch
Polly Dugan
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 229 pages
Publication date:
June 10th 2014
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
So Much a Part of You by Polly Dugan is a short but strong collection of short stories that are all interconnected. We follow a young boy named Jack who has an extremely dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father, a passive mother and a sister whom he does not get along with. This boy later grows up and becomes a father to a Anna, a character who appears in some form in almost all the stories afterwards. Jack’s relationship with his sister, Clare kind of reminds me of the relationship I have with my younger brother though fortunately our parents are nothing like theirs. It was pretty interesting to see the father Jack ends up being and one can only conclude that his experiences with growing up and the traumas he encountered really had an impact on him.

Anna was an ordinary protagonist though her relationships with other characters later on made her a more fascinating character to follow. It was interesting to see how Anna was connected to all the other characters and it was cool to see their back stories. The nice thing about the stories featured in So Much a Part of You is how relatable some of the things the characters’ experiences can be to young people. Things like wanting to fit in at college, to make bad decisions and even the fear that you are becoming more and more like your parent as you grow older.

Though the description on the back of the book is a bit misleading as it focuses on only one of the numerous stories in this collection, So Much a Part of You is overall, a mostly well-written collection of short stories that I think would appeal especially to those who are in their twenties and older. It is also a perfect, quick read for a work commute as the stories are enjoyable and despite being about life, relationships and growing; they aren’t heavy reads.

If you like this book, you’ll love: Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess


Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Bombay Wali and Other Stories by Veena Gokhale

Authour:bombaywali
Veena Gokhale
Format:
Paperback, 217 pages
Publication date:
March 31st 2013
Publisher:
Guernica Editions
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis:

Twelve stories that provide startling glimpses of contemporary life in Bombay, and elsewhere. An innocuous jazz concert that awakens painful memories for a middle-aged caregiver, a wealthy business woman compelled by the desire to hurt her best friend, a lonely, old woman in a Tokyo apartment who seeks the touch of a baby’s hand. Tales about friendship and repulsion, family ties and freedom; violence, public and private; ambition and uncertainty, alienation and acceptance, growing up and growing old.

Review:

“…If you’ve always lived here, it’s no big deal. But if you’re an outsider, you have to work to become a Bombay Wali. Know what I mean? You have to learn about the city. You have to learn about survival…” (p. 30)

I first heard about this collection of short stories on the CBC radio program, “All in a Weekend” when the authour came on to talk to host Sonali Karnick about her book. As soon as I heard what it was about, I became very excited to read it. Luckily I was given a chance to review it.

Bombay Wali and other stories is a short story collection featuring stories about regular people set in 1980s Bombay, India as well as foreign places like Japan and local (to me) places like Toronto. I liked that although the stories are about ordinary people they mostly took place in places that are unfamiliar to me which allowed me to get a glimpse at the daily life and culture that seems so exotic to me.

For the most part my feelings on the stories included this book ranged from loving it to not being very invested or interested in the story. The title story, “Bombay Wali” which means Bombay woman about three young women living in Bombay in the 80s. It was a pretty good read and I’m curious if it was somewhat autobiographical. However it was the short story, “Middle Age Jazz and Blues” that was my all-time favourite story in this collection. As a jazz fan, I really appreciated seeing how Gokhale was able to weave the jazz music performance in the story with the main character’s recollection of her tragic past.

Bombay Wali and other stories is an example of a collection of writing where it appears that the authour writes mostly what she knows, which works very well in this case. The strongest stories in this collection are those that take place in India, as it is here that the writing appeals to all of your senses. A lot of thought is given into the writing of the descriptions of the sights and smells so much that at times you can almost smell all of the wonderful, unusual scents. The only downside to this is there are many terms that may be confusing if you are not familiar with Indian culture. And while there is a glossary at the back, not all the terms are included in the glossary which made it somewhat confusing at times. In spite of that, Bombay Wali and other stories overall was a lovely short story collection that I enjoyed and would recommend to those looking for a good, short read.

If you like this book, you’ll love: Secret Daughter by Shilpi S Gowda

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky

Authour:whirl away
Russell Wangersky
Format:
Paperback, 224 pages
Publication date:
March 17th 2012
Publisher:
Thomas Allen Publishers
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis:

Short story collection examines when coping skills slip – denial, pragmatism, or delusion. A caretaker of a prairie amusement park, the lone occupant of a collapsing Newfoundland town, a travelling sports drink marketer with a pressing need to get off the road, an elevator inspector who finds himself losing his marriage amid sensuous food gourmandizing – all spin out of control into new worlds.

Review:

“The bolt came through the open back window of the truck. It came in end over end. From a distance, if anyone had been watching it, concentrating, it might actually have appeared that the truck was doing the tumbling, and that the bolt was flying perfectly straight.” (p. 1)

If you’re like me, and by that I mean someone who has to commute a lot on a daily basis then you may understand the appeal of short stories. The length and the fact that each story can be read on its own means that you’ll be able to enjoy them during short as well as long trips.

Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky is a good example of this done well. Each of the stories are quite short in length, but they really draw you in. The stories also pack quite the emotional punch and the endings though fulfilling do make you want to read more. The plot of the stories were all really interesting mostly because of how Wangersky writes his characters; though they all are or do crazy, despicable things the reader cannot help but be intrigued. This is because the characters are shown at their most vulnerable moments when their life has spun out of their control thus making them very human and easy to relate to.

“…and I suddenly believed that all the books had been lying about love, that it wasn’t really endless and perfect and available after all. I also realized that I’d actually known this for a while, although I couldn’t pick out the exact day when I’d discovered it.” (p. 78)

Like most short story collections, there were some stories that were more enjoyable for me than others. My personal favourites were “911” and “No Harm, No Foul” both of which were really interesting. I also loved “Family Law” which is about a divorce lawyer who is having an affair while his marriage is falling apart. I liked it for its observations of various other case studies of divorce settlements and I thought the ending to this particular story was the perfect finishing touch. I also liked the fact that the story “Family Law” was connected to another story in the book, as it was interesting to see the different perspectives.

Although there were one or two stories I couldn’t really get into, overall Whirl Away was very strong collection of short stories. Wangersky’s writing is very captivating and solid throughout which made each of the stories satisfying in their own right. If you don’t mind short stories that aren’t uplifting, and like your stories to be about tragedy, loss, regret and sometimes death then you should definitely check out Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky.

If you like this book, you’ll love: This Will Be Difficult to Explain, and Other Stories by Johanna Shively Skibsrud

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.