The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo; Trans. by Janet Hong (Graywolf Press, 2017)
I love this book. The first chapter of the book simply reads:
See the dog.
See the dog drifting by.
Immediately I was sucked in and blown away. So much about this book is about seeing the unseen, the subtleties in gestures and actions and movements, so much is strange and enigmatic, horrifying and violent, uncomfortably far and close and familiar. Who are these characters and why do they do the things they do? A brilliant meditation on the vileness of humanity and the ethics of narrative and storytelling, this book shows you the necessity (and dangers) of watching, listening, making.
Park Minsu remembers the bird. Pigeons and sparrows with no inkling of the fate that awaited them would sometimes fly in through the open window in the hallway. Anticipating such opportunities, the children carried slingshots in their pockets. Park Minsu was responsible for quickly shutting the window in order to trap the bird. The children loaded their slingshots with marbles, a marble bore through the bird, and the bird dropped to the ground. Then they put the dead bird in the slingshot, the bloody, nearly featherless pulp became a pellet to be flung, malicious boys aimed for the backs of girls’ necks, and the girls who were hit shrieked. The boys laughed hysterically at this sight, unaware of the fate they would share with the bird, and were in turn beaten to a pulp by the teacher.
Inherit by Ginger Ko (Sidebrow Books, 2017)
God. This book is devastating. In the way, as a woman, we move through the world, the constant violence and tearings-apart amidst the desires, desires, so many desires. How as a woman to desire everything whilst being beaten, built up and back down, how as a daughter, also a mother a mother a mother a wife a woman a human a package, to continue and to not become one’s own mother one’s own grandmother one’s own ghost or self or self again. The heartbreak of enlargement and of asking for more. The betrayal of family of memory of history of success. The inheritances, all of them.
It was so easy to forget the daily breakage of the small daughter, to lose control. She was a grandmother before she forgave her own mother.
The stylization of safety—money, husbands, property.
Recitation by Bae Suah; Trans. by Deborah Smith (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2017)
Aren’t all narrators both reliable and utterly unreliable? Is an utterance also a recitation also a memory also a ritual also a gesture towards selfhood? Must everything be un-known before something can be known again? How does an intersection of identities become a trap become an opportunity become an unraveling? This book is beautiful, mesmerizing, and one that digs into you, into those parts of yourself that might yet need to be revealed.
The land from which my blood and bones were formed, upon which my ancestors lived, which will be forever unknown to me. But no, perhaps even right this moment I am really and actually holding a shabby bundle into my hand, leading my wife and children across that land, taking a lifetime to cross it on foot. Land that it would take someone their whole lifetime to cross. Given that to me this land exists in actuality as a second reality, running parallel to this one, having to decide the issue of its legal sale through a democratic ballot, here in this distant city, feels like holding a ballot to decide whether I will see Maria again. Your belief that two or more individual kinds of phenomena can coexist in one world will never fail to surprise me. If chaos is truly the fundamental nature o f time, as you maintain, then I will both see Maria again and not see her. Because those two outcomes will likely remain eternally undecided, or at least until the day when all of our lives come to an end. In that case, what will become of the land?
Sonata in K by Karen An-Hwei Lee (Ellipsis Press, 2017)
This book is somewhat hard to explain. The official description reads:
Who is Kafka-san? Is he a digitally remastered hologram of the famous writer? Or a golem engineered from a finger-bone excavated from a grave in Prague? Or just your garden-variety flesh-and-blood clone? No one is quite sure, least of all K, a Nisei woman hired to be Kafka-san’s interpreter and chauffeur through millennial Los Angeles. In resplendent, incandescent prose, Karen An-hwei Lee fashions this short, strange trip out of a mind meld between the Czech fabulist of bureaucracies and a sun-hammered late-empire sprawl.
And in her blurb, Mary Caponegro asks, “What writer doesn’t pledge allegiance to Kafka?”
So in some ways, there is a certain obsession, miming, perpetuation driving the momentum of this book. But of course, it’s not that simple. It’s also about simple human interactions. It’s about place, here the sprawl of LA and it’s aged agelessness. It’s also about literature, its continuation, the romanticisms and petty pains of it. It is about the absurdness of continuing to live with such decadence in a world being swallowed up by catastrophe. How does the way one acts and speaks at breakfast relate to the way the world is burning down? How do the poems that are written after a meeting reflect the meeting or the person or the self?
Kafka answers the door flawlessly starched and suited as though he’d never slept in his traveling clothes, not even lightly rumpled, the noblesse of a violet-black calla lily in a marsh. However, he is unshaven: a four o’clock shadow. On the crown of his head, silky tufts stand up, faintly reeking of tangerine-sandalwood and amaretto. Stayed wide awake last night, he says, a solitary vigil, einsam.
Mice ran up and down inside the walls.
How many, do you think?
Those aren’t mice, Mister Kafka.
Rats, then? The hotel should get a cat.
No, those are pipes.
Air pockets clicking, drumming.
In the night.
You heard mice, then.
The only way is to get a cat. Traps only mangle the mice not clever enough to sneak out with the bait, and then you fail to reduce the overall number of pests. Put the feat of God in them. A cat is designed to do just that in each of its nine lives.
Mister Kafka, I’ll dial the hotel operator.