Ruined City: A Novel (Chinese Literature Today Book Series)

41lj7pwnbhlby Jia Pingwa
University of Oklahoma Press, 2016

Originally published in 1993, Ruined City (Fei Du) was banned by China’s State Publishing Administration for its explicit sexual content. Since then, Jia Pingwa’s novel of contemporary China’s social and economic transformation has become a bestseller. The story of a famous contemporary writer’s sexual and legal tangles, the novel uses comedy and parody to comment on issues of intellectual seriousness, censorship, and artistic integrity in a changing Chinese society. (Adapted from publisher’s description)

Jia Pingwa (1952- ) stands with Mo Yan and Yu Hua as one of the most prominent and prolific novelists in contemporary Chinese literature. His novels, short stories and essays have a large readership in mainland China, as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The French translation of Ruined City won the French Prix Femina in 1997.

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Landfalls

fsg-cover-croppedby Naomi J. Williams
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015

Williams makes an entertainingly erudite debut with a prismatic reimagining of the doomed French attempt to circumnavigate the globe in the 1780s. With their “scientific mission paramount, no reasonable expense to be spared,” captains Jean-Francois de Galaup de Lapérouse and Paul-Antoine-Marie Fleuriot, Viscount de Langle, set sail in 1785 aboard the Boussole and the Astrolabe. As the “savants” onboard—geologists, physicists, botanists—prepare to study the exotic, Williams’ narrative focuses on the human. Especially poignant is her illustration of how native cultures are poorly interpreted by European explorers celebrating the virtues of Enlightenment. From overweening functionaries and pretentious colonialists, captains and savants are soon forced to decipher personalities and politics. Amid the seesawing boredom and terror of days at sea, William crafts an elegant and entrancing narrative to match her dissection of the landfalls. Literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction. — Kirkus Reviews

Born in Japan, Naomi J. Williams holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. In 2009, she received a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Honorable Mention. She lives in Northern California and is working on her second novel.

The Descartes Highlands

9k=by Eric Gamalinda
Akashic Books, 2014

A mesmerizing story full of mystery, Gamalinda’s American debut tracks the lives of two brothers, Jordan and Mathieu, separated at birth, and their quest to discover their past. Given away by their father, Andrew Brezsky, in exchange for money, they are taken from their birthplace in the Philippines, adopted by different parents, and begin their lives under vastly different circumstances. Jordan ends up in New York, while Mathieu is adopted by French filmmakers who are mourning the recent death of their two-year-old son, and eventually follows in their footsteps and becomes a documentary filmmaker. The novel weaves together three stories, those of the brothers, Jordan and Mathieu, and their biological father, an American who is caught in the Philippines during the political unrest of the ’70s and inexplicably thrown into prison. Although the situations of the three men are completely diverse, their lives unfold in similar ways, especially when it comes to romance. Mathieu and Jordan both fall in love with complicated but empathetic women who want to help them come to terms with their murky past. Mathieu’s girlfriend, Janya, travels the world with him in a search for details on the death of his adopted parents’ first child, and his birth parents. Jordan’s lover, Yuki, looks for someone who can answer his questions about Andrew Brezsky and suggests methods to ease his adoptive mother’s pain. Gamalinda’s tale is intricate, but the full picture never comes into focus. Still, this novel benefits from its philosophical bent and beautiful writing. — Publisher’s Weekly

Eric Gamalinda is the author of two story collections, three books of poetry, and five novels. His novel My Sad Republic won the Philippines’s Centennial Literary Prize. Gamalinda was born and raised in Manila, where he worked as a journalist. He currently lives in New York City and teaches at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University.

Brothers Under a Same Sky

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by Gary Pak
University of Hawaii Press, 2013

Gary Pak’s latest novel is the story of two Korean-American brothers, Nam Kun and Nam Ki Han, raised in a devout Christian household on a Hawaiian plantation. Following their father’s death, Nam Kun works to support his mother and younger brother, but distances himself from the same Christian faith his remaining family clings to. Years later, at the start of the Korean War, Nam Ki is drafted into the army—an occurrence Nam Kun believes will make a man out of his younger brother. However, the need to kill clashes with Nam Ki’s religious convictions, and the ethical turmoil that follows is soothed only when he meets and falls in love with a young Korean, Christian woman. Nam Ki vows to return for her once the war ends, but upon doing so learns that she has fallen into an ignominious lifestyle, confronting him with a final choice between faith and flesh.

Gary Pak is a third-generation Korean-American. He received his BA from Boston University and his MA and PhD from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where he is currently a professor of English. His published fiction includes the novels A Ricepaper Airplane and Children of a Fireland, as well as the short story collections The Watcher of Waipuna and Other Stories, and Language of the Geckos. He is the recipient of the 1992 Elliot Cades Literary Prize, as well as a 2002 Fulbright award to Seoul, South Korea.