Recommended Reading: The Mountain, by Paul Yoon

I have read and loved Paul Yoon’s previous books, the short novel The Snow Hunters and Once the Shore, a collection of short stories. The Mountain*, a collection of six exquisite stories, is a gorgeous addition to his body of work.

Each of these six stories is a gem, remarkable since they are all, superficially, quite different. Settings range from upstate New York to the eastern reaches of Russia, from England to China, from the 1920s to slightly beyond the present day. The main characters are men and women, propelled by trauma and circumstance to seek connection with others and answers about their pasts.

In “A Willow and the Moon,” a man, after working at a London hospital during the Blitz, returns to the sanitarium in upstate New York where his mother tended to World War One veterans and succumbed to morphine addiction. Karine, one of the two protagonists of “Still a Fire,” is also a morphine addict, displaced after the Second World War. In France, she nurses Mikel, another displaced person, after a terrible accident; Mikel’s tale of piecing together work and living in a shanty makes up the first part of the story.

Antje is a German expat working in Spain, afraid that her marriage to her a quiet hotel manager is disintegrating. On a whim, she accompanies a hotel guest on a trip to Galicia, in a story of the same name. Further east, Misha and Kostya, the grandchildren of Korean laborers imprisoned by the Japanese, reunite in their native Russia, and find that years apart have changed them both (“Vladivostok Station”).

In “The Mountain,” Faye is persuaded to leave South Korea and return to China, where she begins work at a sweatshop as her past breaks into her body. And in “Milner Field,” a man recalls a story his father told him about his childhood while he waits for the arrival of his daughter at an English country house.

These are bare-bones descriptions of the stories’ premises. Each story is perfectly paced, with details that shine in Mr. Yoon’s clean, measured prose. In these pages we meet the lost and the lonely, trace the gaps left by the missing (often mothers), feel the weight of suffering but not despair. For a short book to contain so much humanity is remarkable. Highly recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Last Month’s Reading: August 2017

Dear Readers, I hope your August was lovely.

We traveled: to Edinburgh (just for a few days; our first trip out of the country as a family), where I was delighted to find the Scottish Poetry Library, and later in the month spent a quick weekend at Niagara Falls (our son adored the Maid of the Mist, as did we), with a chance to visit a dear friend on the Canadian side.

Our garden is winding down, school is starting, and the blankets are on the beds at night. Wishing you all a happy fall (or spring, Australian readers), and happy reading.

I know many of you have probably already donated to the relief efforts in Texas. If you’re looking for more ways to help, Book Riot put together a list of book/library/publishing-related ways to do so. Texans, we’re thinking of you.

Last Month’s Reading: August 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin*, by Rachel Khong: A quietly beautiful novel about one year in the life of a woman who comes home to help care for her father, who suffers from dementia. Empathetic and funny without shying away from the terrible frailty the disease exposes in both patient and caregiver. Recommended.

The Art of Time in Fiction, by Joan Silber: My favorite entry (so far) in Graywolf’s “Art Of” series for writers. I’ll be coming back to this book.

Day, by A.L. Kennedy: I bought this novel in the Edinburgh airport and read it cover to cover on the flight home. Day is about Alfred Day, a young man from an unhappy home who volunteers to serve as a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber during World War II. The book begins in 1949 as Day is working as an extra in a war movie that triggers memories of his experiences.  It’s absolutely stellar.

The Bonniest Companie, by Kathleen Jamie: One of my finds at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. This is a collection about Scotland; Ms. Jamie wrote one poem a week in 2014, and those poems became this book. I love her engagement with the natural world (from “High Water”: “When the tide returns / from its other life / bearing its adulterer’s gifts”). Recommended.

Lessons on Expulsion*, by Erika L. Sánchez: Full review of this bold collection here.

The Mountain*, by Paul Yoon: Six gorgeous stories from a master of the form. Longer review coming soon.

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin: The brilliant finale to Ms. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (the first two installments of which I inhaled at the very end of 2016). Highly, highly recommended.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett: A little gem of a book; the uncommon reader is the queen, who discovers late in life a passion for reading. Spend an afternoon with this charming novella while you wait for the second season of The Crown.

The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy: If you’ve read “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” Ms. Levy’s gut-wrenching New Yorker essay, you know how gifted a writer she is. This memoir builds toward the events of that essay in candid, clear prose. Unfortunately, the last few chapters fizzle, holding back in ways the rest of the book (which deals with infidelity, alcohol addiction, and infertility, among other difficult subjects) does not.

The Windfall, by Diksha Basu: In New Delhi, Mr. and Mrs. Jha decide to relocate from their small apartment complex to an upscale neighborhood after Mr. Jha sells his business for a significant sum . They know the move will be difficult, but they can’t foresee its effects—hilarious and otherwise—on their neighbors, new and old, and their son, struggling at an American business school. Ms. Basu skewers the rich with a smile, and I was delighted by her nuanced characterizations of long-time friends Mrs. Jha and Mrs. Ray; it was good to see middle-aged women given such close attention.

*I received copies of these books from their publishers for review consideration.

Recommended Reading: Snow Hunters, by Paul Yoon

snow huntersI’m so pleased to end my year of reading recommendations with this lovely, lovely work by Paul Yoon.

Snow Hunters follows Yohan, a tailor who lives in Brazil, as he adjusts to his new life, new occupation, and as he struggles with his memories of war and friendship in his native Korea. It’s a novel about place and time. Reading it, I could imagine standing in the sun on the coast of Brazil, what it would be like to feel the small triumph of learning a street’s name.

Mr. Yoon’s pose is spare but illuminating; it often reminded me of Hemingway’s writing, but with more light behind the shuttered windows. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

And he understood that he would never be able to hold all the years that had gone in their entirety. That those years would begin to loosen, break apart, slip away. That there would come a time when there was just a corner, a window, a smell, a gesture, a voice to gather and assemble. (151)

Beautiful. Writing that bears re-reading.

(Cecilia has a wonderful review of Snow Hunters on her blog, Only You.)