Sunday, August 7, 2016

Two Debut Reviews

Esme Weijun Wang's debut novel The Border of Paradise captivated me from the first few pages.  Set in mid twentieth century Brooklyn, Taiwan, and a high Sierra town in California, it explores the impact of mental illness on multiple generations of the Nowak family, and portrays how it brings the family close together and tears it apart.  Taking the first person perspectives of the different family members is not a new approach but is done in such a fresh and intimate way in Wang's deft hands.  I was curious about this very talented young writer, so I went to her website which is quite unlike other author websites I have visited.  She describes how the three themes on her mind in recent times are creativity, resilience, and legacy, all of which are touched upon in her novel.  It's evident after reading the novel and visiting her website that she someone bristling with creative ideas, and has published many essays and embarked on other artistic projects.  Highly recommended!

Yaa Gyasi's debut novel Homegoing has been hailed as a revelation - some have even gone so far as to suggest it is and will be the best book published in 2016.  This is one of those books (and I've had this feeling before, for example, when Zadie Smith published White Teeth and Chimamanda Adichie published Purple Hibisicus) in which I wonder what I was doing when I was 26 years old!  What Gyasi has achieved at such an early stage of her age is very impressive.  She's written a gorgeous, heartbreaking novel that spans eight generations and multiple geographies (coming full circle to Ghana, with many stops in between including Harlem and Alabama). What I find particularly interesting about her novel is that despite its breadth, each chapter almost stands alone as a vignette that explores deeply the characters' lives.  To achieve both breadth and depth is rare.  It's an essential read on slavery and its legacy.  

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