Year of the Goose
Carly J. Hallman
Unnamed Press, Nov 2015
286 pp; $16
Many children grow up reading Aesop’s fables. With cute animals illustrating life lessons in short, minute-long stories, what’s not to love?
Slow and steady wins the race.
Please all, and you will please none.
Better no rule than cruel rule.
In her debut novel Year of the Goose, Carly J. Hallman investigates whether or not unbelievable amounts of money can, in fact, buy happiness. (No. The answer is no. And here’s the other thing: in this story, the goose is evil.)
Set in a stylized version of China, Goose follows a series of rants and confessions from a rainbow of outrageous characters: the heiress to Bashful Goose Snack Company, China’s most successful corporation; China’s most innovative organic hair farmer, now in hiding; the soul of a monk now inhabiting the body of a turtle; a prized hair model, who has recently decided to leave the industry and pursue something—anything—else. Each story is more earnest and strange than the last.Continue Reading
Taiwan is not China. Meet a Taiwanese person and one from mainland China and the difference is akin to the difference between an English person and an American. The schism goes beyond geography and flags. The rifts between the island nation and its gargantuan neighbor helped shape Taiwan’s literature.
The Japanese colonized Taiwan around 1895. Chiang Kai-shek fled from mainland China to the island and ruled for a while, having fled with the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist party) against Mao Tse Tung’s rising power in 1949. Taiwan was recognized as the official seat of Chinese government but when the UN no longer recognized it as such, it rescinded Taiwan’s UN seat. These are common themes in literature from the island of 23.4 million people, as are its diminishing international relevance and the shift from agriculture to industry.
Two pieces of literature demonstrate struggles of the modern Taiwanese and its indigenous peoples today: Li Ang’s novel, The Lost Garden, translated from the Chinese by Sylvia Li-chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt; and Song Zelai’s short story, “Jingzhen, Taiwan, 1978,” translated by Nancy Tsai. Both works of fiction tackle adjustments of a rapidly modernizing island (Californians, New Yorkers, and Floridians might find commonalities in their real estate-centric work) and contain other similarities threaded through like exquisite lacework.
Li Ang is the pen name of Shih Shu-tuan. Readers early on glean her feminist perspective but with The Lost Garden, a bouquet of extended metaphors, she takes her literary career to new heights by revealing the dark side of modernization. The novel was originally published in 1990, three years after the White Terror Era that saw four decades of martial law in Taiwan, and was the first novel-length work of literature to recreate the Era. A French translation was published 13 years ago and the US just got its English translation in November.Continue Reading
Photograph by Gustavo Jeronimo
Most of us who now call ourselves Americans were at one point something else, or else we owe our citizenship to family members who immigrated. In the brouhaha of fear following the Paris attacks however, this has almost entirely been forgotten, adding more steps to an already long process for any refugee to enter the United States, not to mention the process already in place for non-refugees who wish to reside in the country.
In Part II of this series (Mirrored Crisis: Post-Trauma Diaspora Memory through Jonathan Safran Foer’s EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED), I looked at the aftermath of forced mass migration, to remind ourselves that the effects of refugee crises do, indeed, impact their descendants. This last part of the Mirrored Crisis series will conclude looking at the immigration of those who cannot do so officially through Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life.
One of the main characters of Preparation for the Next Life is Zou Lei, an illegal half-Uighur, half-Chinese immigrant to the United States from northwestern China. Zou Lei, after being detained for an unknown period in a jail in the US, ends up in Queens, New York, where she earns her living through a series of jobs in Chinese restaurants. Wherever she works, her coworkers sense she isn’t entirely Chinese:
The women were from Begin to Celebrate, Four Meetings, Connected Mountain, and Honesty Admired. She told them she was from south of the river.
But you’re from somewhere else, they said.
I’m Chinese, like you.
You don’t look it.
In the sun, you could see Zou Lei’s hair was brown and not black. There was a waviness in it. She had a slightly hooked nose and Siberian eyes.
Our China is a big country, she said.
You sound like a northerner.
The Winged Seed
BOA Editions, April 2013
Reading Li-Young Lee’s The Winged Seed reminded me of an argument by economist Tyler Cowen. Cowen cautions against our propensity to impose narrative on everything. He claims that life is not a story but a mess, and that in insisting on making sense by giving it a storyline, we actually exclude and erase much of it. This may sound like a damning statement, especially for writers of nonfiction—and yet it seems that (over a decade before Cowen) Lee followed the same philosophy when writing this book.
The Winged Seed was first published in 1995 and won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. It is sometimes marketed as a memoir and sometimes as an autobiography, but if we have to put a genre label on it, I propose to call it by its subtitle: a remembrance. Lee presents the reader with a series of memories—his own as well as those that his parents shared with him about their own lives.