Great Books Of This Moment

Female voices whisper tale and truth from around the globe. Published work within democracies valuing female freedom foster intersection between cultures and issues. Attending to our sisters’ imaginings, witnessing, enduring, survival and achievements here, there and everywhere benefits us all. This issue of Bookisshh features works by women young or mature, local or international, and whatever women endeavor to share. Enjoy!

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata / Fiction

Eerie, oblique and simmering Murata portrays the life of a working class, single, Japanese woman named Keiko. In this story Murata equates a contemporary convenience store to an aquarium through which readers observe Keiko swimming dutifully back and forth between her highly compartmentalized shop duties. A simple premise and yet not.IMG_3535.jpg After much deliberation Keiko discovers her place within the social structure as a part-time employee,  entirely devoted to her convenience store manual and follows it as gospel. Keiko’s sole desire is to work, fit into her convenience store community, go home, repeat predictably day in and day out infinitely. 

Robot-like and chugging along, traditionalism imposes romance, family and marriage onto Keiko. Obediently Keiko finds a partner and engages in a horrible symbiotic relationship. Keiko’s boyfriend quits his job at the convenience store, moves into her house, is critical and cruel draining Keiko of her passion and purpose in life. The brief taste of independence experienced by Keiko lingers in the back of her mind and lures her back to her former circumstances.

Convenience Store Woman is about individual choice in a society that valuing group over individual and male above female. It’s about the changing nature of women becoming economically self-sustaining and how relationships and perceptions of and between the genders are affected. Convenience Store Woman is a quiet, clear, quick read demonstrating how work can truly set one free.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon / Fiction

The Incendiaries, a campus novel, takes readers into independent moments emerging adults tucked within the confines of a college campus. A young collegiate female/male couple experience and/or shun concerns such as politics, core values, professionalism as they build relationships and identities. IMG_3534.jpg

In terms of setting, Kwon builds a college atmosphere found just about anywhere.  On campus are passionate academics, Greek systems, art posses, and cults. In this setting student unpack shards of family breakdowns, intersecting faiths, gender and identity issues all of which produce conflicts within relationships as students partner, commit, cohabit, in rehearsal for their adult lives.

Kwon shares with readers the dangers and impact ultra conservatism invites within groups that vary as members intersect, fracture, divide, evolve and rebuild. Kwon pushes characters toward and away from their cores as they’re faced with growth that college encourages to students manage. She shows how they succeed and how they fail and how love doesn’t care about either outcome. As characters explore campus life they endure cult practices and suffer feelings of connection and isolation leaving them feeling vulnerable.

The Incendiaries leaves readers with the idea that preparation for college goes beyond the good resume of academics, service and sports. Kwon dramatizes inherent dangers when dependence on packaged core value systems constrains an individual’s emotional intelligence, resilience, growth mindset and openness to diverse ways of thinking and living. A quick read worth the time away from the screen.

Severance by Ling Ma / Fiction

The quietest dystopian novel I have ever read. Ma has coy capacity to make her reader laugh while humanity is in a dire state of decline.severance final.jpgSeverance toggles within time and space from New York city to China and oddly concludes in Chicago (the current place of residence for Ling Ma). The narrative provides a metaphor representing the loss a migrant person, far from home and unlikely to return may experience.

Situated within the publishing world, main character, Candace, has lost her family of origin having nothing to live for except life itself. Candace is a project manager at Spectra Publishing and supervises the Bible Division. Through her job, readers experience the back channels of bible publishing from actual construction to branding keeping the bible a consumable text.

Candace also doubles as a mystery blogger, “NYC Ghost” and photographs New York spaces as they become increasingly empty.  Why is New York becoming empty? Only a bird flu from China knows…

Distracting and interesting, Ma uses product placement and branding to build a socioeconomic context and sense class consciousness and condenses narrative time into the contemporary moment.  By emphasizing consumerism and excess Ma points to the absence of uniqueness among people obsessively focused on acquiring brand name merchandise to look like that neighbor the so admire.

In the absence of mass culture Ma asks us to consider who we are and what we have left once stripped of material goods or audiences to admire them. Shopping malls become sanctuaries and prisons in their abandoned states as the masses contract a virus that begins with irrational thinking, peaks with obsessive repetitive behavior and ends in fevered convulsion, followed by death.

Severance does not resolve without employment of female cunning nor does it complete without hope. It’s an interesting meditation on what we build, how it plagues us, and the unique roles woman can and do play.

Soy Sauce For Beginners by Kirstin Chen / Fiction : Food Driven Narrative

Using sensory detail, Chen takes readers into the soy sauce industry in Singapore. Readers will smell, taste and witness the art and craft of soy sauce making and how mass consumption and profiteering has impacted this ancient delicacy today.SOY-SAUCE-FOR-BEGINNERS-Final-Cover.jpgSoy Sauce For Beginners dramatizes family feuds over fortune, life choices, mistake making, and cultural fetishes toward gender and race. Also explored are themes: the lure of the West from the East and how children leave family and homeland and build lives in other countries without ever returning. 

Additionally, Chen challenges Chinese patriarchal assumption as it relates to social position for women in the home, business and school. Chen pokes at traditionalism and portrays it as the virus plaguing women’s unhappiness in the character of her alcoholic mother in need of dialysis.

Chen describes a Singapore of yuppies, working and spending while enjoying passing fancy foodtiques. Chen’s characters throw lovely posh parties, round table family feasts during which controversy is buried under mounds and domes of food. While food creates intimacy and a narrative tool there is a greater story.

A daughter is awarded the opportunity for a Western education and during her stay in America falls in and out of love with who she believes to be her prince charming. A relationship falls apart and the daughter returns home to her father, his business and her mother. She struggles with every truth possible–her impending divorce, inherent shame of failing at family dream fulfillment, and returning home to assume responsibility and the challenges of being female during this time.

In Chen’s Singapore youth and innovation drive change and readers relish how an American woman comes of age and discovers a happy ending where her life began.

The contrasts between how women fare when they leave their country to live elsewhere and the knowledge carried to a foreign context is compelling. Female acculturation is a unique subtext for this work and aids readers in considering how women are shaped and what they’re prepared for around the globe as women become equal socioeconomic participants everywhere.

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