Smell is one of life’s most evocative senses. A whiff of cologne takes me back to a dim-lit street where I walked hand-in-hand with my high school sweetheart; the assault of trassi (Indonesian shrimp paste) on my nostrils recalls the days in my mother’s kitchen as she pounded this pungent paste with chilies and garlic in her weathered stone mortar.
Shoko Tendo grew up a yakuza’s daughter turned into a juvenile delinquent, then a drug addict, then finally a sturdy writer with a compelling memoir. Being daddy’s girl didn’t shield her from much, and her life bore no resemblance to the Western image of a coddled “mafia princess.” Underneath her walking, talking, I-don’t-care exterior is someone who never knew love, security and stability.
If ever there were a situation where the phrase “you can’t go home again” would apply, it would be in Many Ly’s second novel for young adults, “Roots and Wings.” Though the phrase should probably be altered to “you can go home again, but prepare to be reminded of why you left.”
Author Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum knows how complicated growing up can be. Her first novel, National Book Award finalist “Madeleine is Sleeping,” explored the turbulent, often surreal world of adolescence. There, Bynum revealed the tragedy that can hide behind the physical or hormonal changes that put an end to childhood. Far too many of us want to stay children, want to stay unformed and unfocused as adults, escaping into a private void we mistakenly call “freedom.”
As expected of the wired Generation X-er I am, I Googled “Serve the People” to find out more about the book and the author. I was a little surprised; what I thought was a cleverly coined book title was actually a political slogan stemming from a speech Mao Zedong delivered on Sept. 8, 1944, in memory of a fellow Communist party member.
Novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo has a wonderfully deadpan sense of humor. This was evident in her previous book, “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers,” which revealed, in the form of a glossary, a fraught-with-misunderstandings romance between an untutored Chinese peasant girl, who comes to London to study languages, and the bisexual British aesthete whom she meets at the movies. Likewise, Guo’s feature debut as a director, the meta-comedy “How is Your Fish Today?” was a gentle satire about a Beijing hipster trying to succeed as a screenwriter, despite having none of his scripts make it past government censors.
Working within the emotionally associative forms of poetry and memoir, award-winning poet David Mura has already created a body of work that tackles head-on complex issues such as sexual desire and addiction, race relations and the unspoken consequences of U.S. WWII internment camps on later generations of Japanese Americans.
It is a story told in photos, of a childhood growing up in the ghetto of San Francisco’s Chinatown district. Because of a father who was largely absent from the family members’ lives, Foo’s mother worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, in a sweatshop to support Foo and her five sisters. “Earth Passages: Journey Through Childhood” doubles as an autobiography and collection of nature photographs by author, attorney and activist Lora Jo Foo.