28 Booklist February 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
who stays to work on her family’s farm and to
woo her. Both Mary and Eliza’s sister, four-year-old Lottie (who blurts out events in the
past and future that stun her family), are attuned to the supernatural and experience
sightings between the two time periods, as
their full stories are gradually revealed. Myerson has become known for her skill as a teller
of particularly dreadful stories, but never before has she so vividly limned the pain felt
by so many of her well-drawn characters. Despite its length, this novel is impossible to put
down; it will be read compulsively to learn
the what of what has happened, if not the
why. A stunner. —Michele Leber
The Translation of Love.
By Lynne Kutsukake.
Apr. 2016. 336p. Doubleday, $25.95 (9780385540674).
More than half a million Japanese citizens
sent letters to General MacArthur during
the American occupation of Japan following WWII, and Kutsukake uses that fact as
the framework for her first novel. Twelve-year-old Fumi enlists Aya,
a new girl in school, for
help with a letter asking
the general to find Sumiko,
Fumi’s older sister. Aya
has a good command of
English because she grew
up in Canada, from where
she and her father were deported after spending time in an internment
camp. Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Nisei
born and raised in the U.S., has a job translating the letters that pour into occupation
headquarters. Kondo, Fumi’s middle-school
teacher, moonlights in “Love Letter Alley,”
reading and writing letters for young women
desperate to contact GIs who have returned
to the U.S. What Fumi doesn’t know is that
Sumiko is not actually missing. Instead,
she works in a dance hall in Tokyo’s Ginza
district and uses the money and gifts she receives (“a peck on the cheek might yield a jar
of peanut butter”) to help support her family.
Kutsukake skillfully weaves these characters’
varied perspectives together to create a vivid
and memorable account of ordinary people
struggling to recover from the devastations
of war. —Mary Ellen Quinn
An Unrestored Woman.
By Shobha Rao.
Mar. 2016. 256p. Flatiron, $24.99 (9781250073822).
The toll of war is often heaviest on the
most vulnerable segments of the population, and the carnage after
the partition of India and
Pakistan following independence from Britain in
1947 was no exception.
Thousands of Hindu and
Muslim women were abducted and raped and lived
in the shadows of the greatest peacetime migration in human history.
Rao’s raw and breathtaking short story col-
lection is set against this epic canvas, yet
her character studies are intimate. Here are
soulful human beings struggling with ways
of retaining their essential humanity against
overwhelming odds even as they face the
starkest of choices between life and death for
themselves and their loved ones. These are
women and a few men haunted by horrific
memories, sometimes by repressed sexual-
ity, and by guilt and regret. India recovered
many of its lost women, but as these stories
show, when it comes to the human spirit,
there’s a yawning chasm between recovery
and restoration. Nevertheless, these women’s
stoic willingness to soldier on with the bur-
den that is life speaks volumes about their
hard-edged resilience. Exquisite turns of
phrase and editing with a fine-edged scalpel
only add to an outstanding and memorable
debut. —Poornima Apte
By Han Kang. Tr. by Deborah Smith.
Feb. 2016. 192p. Hogarth, $21 (9780553448184); e-book
When ordinary and submissive Yeong-hye
becomes a vegetarian, her family treats her decision as both a disease and a betrayal. As they
try to control her, their own manners deteriorate, culminating in violence, adultery, and
estrangement. Yeong-hye becomes a Bartleby-like figure as her personal choice morphs into
other acts of social rebellion, such as being
shirtless in public or refusing to ingest anything but water. Korean writer Han Kang’s
elegant yet unsettling prose conveys her
protagonist’s brother-in-law’s obsessive, art-centered lust; her sister’s tepid, regret-riddled
existence; and Yeong-hye’s vivid, disturbing
dreams. What is more upsetting is how the
characters’ taboo behavior begins to seem reasonable over time, perhaps because they have
ignored their desires for so long. Divided into
three novellas, The Vegetarian shows how one
woman’s step toward independence destroys
a family that thrives on oppression and what
they consider to be normal. Readers will want
more of the author’s shocking portrayals of
our innermost doubts, beliefs, and longings.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman.
By Kaitlyn Greenidge.
Mar. 2016. 336p. Algonquin, $25.95 (9781616204679).
When Laurel, an African-American mother
from Boston’s South Side, accepts a position
to teach sign language to a chimpanzee named
Charlie at a private ape re-
search facility in the verdant
Berkshire Mountains, she
unwittingly introduces her
two young daughters to a
disturbing world of mystery
and misogyny, racism and
retaliation. The institute’s
first director in the 1920s
used racial profiling to horrific effect, conduct-
ing clandestine experiments on black men and
seducing a lonely black woman into posing for
compromising drawings—all allegedly in the
name of science. Some 70 years later, Laurel’s
teenage daughter, Charlotte, and her youngest
daughter, Callie, will find themselves caught in
a struggle that pits their own blossoming desire
for identity and belonging against their moth-
er’s mania for Charlie’s attention and a society
that has yet to acknowledge the insidious ways
bigotry and discrimination undermine its
most basic institutions. Greenidge’s wondrous
first novel pits the sins of the past against the
desire for the future in a multifaceted narrative
that challenges concepts of culture and com-
munication. —Carol Haggas
YA: Conflicting feelings of conformity and
rebellion, acceptance and individualism
make Charlotte a recognizable and
sympathetic teen protagonist. CH.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.
By Helen Oyeyemi.
Mar. 2016. 304p. Riverhead, $27 (9781594634635).
Oyeyemi, who penned the magical novels
Mr. Fox (2011) and Boy Snow Bird (2014), of-
fers an equally imaginative set of nine short
stories. Lovers populate the pages of these
fable-like tales, pining passionately as their
quest for a beloved takes them on bewitch-
ing journeys. For Radha in “is your blood as
red as this?,” it means enrolling in a puppetry
school in pursuit of Myrna, the beautiful in-
structor who catches her eye at a party. Myrna
puts Radha off by choosing another student
as her apprentice, but Radha is not to be de-
terred as she studies under another instructor
and is given a puppet who used to be a live
woman. In “books and roses,” Montse, a laun-
dress who was left at a chapel as a baby and
raised by monks, learns about her mother’s
passionate love affair with a wealthy recluse as
she herself falls in love with a painter haunted
by her own lost love. And love turns to loath-
ing when a teenager’s pop star idol brutalizes a
prostitute in “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea.”
A beguiling collection. —Kristine Huntley
YA/M: Advanced readers will find
themselves absorbed in Oyeyemi’s
inventive worlds. KH.
What Lies between Us.
By Nayomi Munaweera.
Feb. 2016. 320p. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9781250043948);
e-book, $12.99 (9781466842281).
Childhood in Sri Lanka is enchanting, filled
with luscious flowers, juicy fruits, and other
native beauties. For one girl, this magical time
is also filled with the warmth and security of
family and friends who enrich her beautiful riverside
home, but behind the inviting facade lurks a dangerous
darkness. When tragedy
strikes, she and her mother
flee to America, where she
begins to rebuild her life.
Away from the terrors that
plagued her and the constricting traditions of
her homeland, she pursues her education, becoming first a nurse, then a wife and mother.