It’s time for another edition of the Book Sommelier! Here are some new pairings for you:
A lot of American literature is immigrant literature. There are so many novels about people leaving (or fleeing) to other countries for safety or economic opportunity that it’s refreshing to find stories that have a different version of the immigrant experience. In Mother Country and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, we see two women—one Russian and one Ukrainian—doing everything they can to get their children into a better place. And both of these stories have twists. In one, Mother Country, the mother forgets to consider that her child might want something different than what they planned. And in the other, we see a mother who believes that the ends always justify her unscrupulous means.
I usually scorn books about rich people. I have a very hard time relating to them because, even though their problems are real, I struggle to sympathize with people who have money to smooth their paths through life. But it seems, with these two books, I have found an exception to my aversion. These masterfully written books feature characters who create catastrophes with their unthinking, entitled actions, but then later have to face up to the consequences and seek to make up for those actions. The settings in these books are also fantastic, with bonus points to Atonement for the way it plays around with time lines.
I mentioned in my review of The Fox and Dr. Shimamura the coincidence of reading these books close to each other, but I wanted to bring it up again because the pairing is just so perfect. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down presents a nonfiction account of a (very) young Hmong with severe epilepsy caught in the middle of Hmong culture and Western medicine. Fadiman’s book floored me—and I liked it a lot—but The Fox and Dr. Shimamura‘s fictional version of the same conflict added a perspective I needed. Where Fadiman clearly portrays the opposing sides, who will not budge, Wunnicke gives us a story of a person actually caught in the middle. Wunnicke’s Dr. Shimamura provides a glimpse at the possibility of hybridity. (Sorry to get academic right there at the end, but I couldn’t think of a non jargon word for “creating something new out of one or more ways of life in an effort to survive conflict.”)