May 29, 2021
There’s no such thing as June Gloom when there are so many exciting books coming out next month. This week we have a number of debuts that come with a lot of buzz: a Chinese-American Western, a powerful Vietnamese memoir, stories rooted in West African culture that defy genre categorization, and magic throughout, including a special elixir that promises success for Black girls. And we couldn’t resist adding Edward St. Aubyn’s newest because he’s such a favorite of ours.
Buyer, Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
By TOM LIN
Published by LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
I love a contemporary Western, like Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, or C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold—it’s a genre that begs to be mashed up and modernized. Lin’s new novel is a startlingly good addition to the category. Not only is it a debut novel, but Lin isn’t even 25. Like his main character, he is the son of Chinese immigrants and his subject is a doomed love story between the orphan Ming Tsu and the daughter of a corrupt California railroad baron. It is a tale of revenge and a quixotic journey through the violent Wild West, with a touch of magic to enhance this ambitious and thoroughly successful debut.
By EDWARD ST. AUBYN
Published by FSG
There is so much (fascinating) writing here about brain waves, billionaires’ fantastic dreams, plus dreamy locales like Cap d’Antibes and Big Sur, that the touching story of two English couples almost gets buried—but then it doesn’t. Lucy has fallen in love just as she is diagnosed with a brain tumor; Olivia, the adopted daughter of two psychotherapists, is pregnant and her companion has a wandering eye. This sort of ensemble story is where St. Aubyn (The Patrick Melrose Novels) excels—delving into his characters and their flaws, humanizing them, and showing us the best and worst of people. The ending is incredibly moving..
Walking on Cowrie Shells
By NANA NKWETI
Published by GRAYWOLF PRESS
Nkweti teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama and identifies as Cameroonian American. Her many styles and settings render this selection of stories unclassifiable: we have zombies, cultural clashes, mermaids, international adoption, and more. The book comes with the imprimatur of many great authors including Yaa Gyasi, Andrew Sean Greer, and Karen Russell—who’s a great comparison if you like her work. Pop culture and sly humor fill the pages of the collection. Eclectic, entertaining and audacious, her range makes you want to take a class from her.
House of Sticks
By LY TRAN
Published by SCRIBNER
Tran spares nothing in her searing memoir about immigrating to America from the Mekong Delta in 1993 and ending up in Brooklyn. Life was definitely not easy—her father was a former POW with PTSD and the family struggled, but their Buddhist stoicism helped them to survive and thrive. The contrast between the quiet, war-ravaged village they left and urban New York did not make things easier. Her moving autobiography, which describes her family’s transition, working as a manicurist in a nail salon, facing physical challenges, and ultimately becoming a writer, is inspiring and brave, particularly for an author’s first book..
The Other Black Girl
By ZAKIYA DALILA HARRIS
Published by ATRIA BOOKS
It will be hard to avoid all the advance publicity for this debut. Like the wonderful Luster before it, it features a young Black woman in publishing, written by the same. This time the premise concerns what happens when a second young Black woman joins the protagonist’s prestigious New York workplace. Questions of ambition and what it takes to succeed arise, but it happens there is a secret potion to help Black women get ahead. With comic irony and some magic alongside a ringing statement of the need for more diversity in the industry, the author has produced a fast-paced, provocative read that is certain to start discussions.