Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

a nutshell: this is a stunningly understated contemplation on grief, queerness & race, which quietly bruises as it nudges along its way

a line: “These interactions feel like a mix of coffee and booze, the warmth of recognition and the anxiety of direct attention. She is unsettled by the host of uncertainties that comes with being recognised as a trans woman by a room full of strangers”

an image: every page of wilson-yang’s writing holds some element of beauty; at one point, she pauses on the peaceful black sky in rural Canada – not the ‘unfinished’ night of the city, but stars spread throughout with ‘the appearance of longing’

a thought: for Mei, the main protagonist, all encounters are fraught with complication – one painful instance is how, after she’s assaulted, a passerby’s expression twists from pity to disgust as she looks more closely

a fact: this book won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Best Transgender Fiction

want to read Small Beauty? visit here

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong (tr. Phan Huy Duong & Nina McPherson)

a nutshell: a young woman, Hang, lucidly recalls her childhood in the Hanoi slums where she was forever torn between two sides of a family splintered by the Vietnamese Communist Party’s land reforms

a line“Hundreds of faces rose in my memory: those of my friends, people of my generation, faces gnawed with worry, shattered faces, twisted, ravaged, sooty, frantic faces.”

an image: Hang gazes out of a train window and feels wounded by the beauty of the Russian countryside under the stars – she paints a picture of light sparking off snowflakes, frail & luminous as a childhood dream

a thought: this is an exquisite novel, overflowing with intoxicating imagery and devastating insights into what it was to grow up in such a contradictory era

a fact: aged 20, the author led a Communist Youth Brigade on the front in the war against the US – but as a vocal advocate of human rights & democratic political reform, she was expelled from the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1989 and imprisoned without trial for seven months; the authorities effectively banned all four of her novels and Duong was long forbidden from travelling abroad

 

want to read Paradise of the Blind? visit here

Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques (tr. Julia Sanches)

a nutshell: in rural north-eastern Portugal, alongside a palliative care team, Moreira Marques meets families as they face up to losing a loved one – recording their emotions and histories

a line: “Grass as tall as children, on the roadside, dancing. In the horizon, hills meeting like lovers. All this in the deepest purple, seconds after the sun sets.”

an image: one conversation in which a daughter recounts long, lonely drives to visit her bedridden father had me in tears – particularly when she berates herself for things left unsaid

a thought: I was also strongly moved by the value that Moreira Marques attaches to not leaving history to be written ‘by the rich’, leading her to sit until sunset with an elderly couple, Senhor João and Senhora Maria, so they could speak tenderly of all they had lived as well as to speak of death

a fact: to write this the author travelled to Trás-os-Montes – which translates as ‘Behind the Mountains’ – and among the individuals she gets to know are several with strikingly self-sufficient lifestyles, growing their own produce both here and during their past in colonised Angola

 

want to read Now and at the Hour of Our Death? visit here