The portrait had altered

Excerpt from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Photo by Shuttergames on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

He got up and locked both doors. At least he would be alone when he looked upon the mask of his shame. Then he drew the screen aside and saw himself face to face. It was perfectly true. The portrait had altered.

As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder, he found himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of almost scientific interest. That such a change should have taken place was incredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some subtle affinity between the chemical atoms that shaped themselves into form and colour on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could it be that what that soul thought, they realized?—that what it dreamed, they made true? Or was there some other, more terrible reason? He shuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch, lay there, gazing at the picture in sickened horror.

One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made him conscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It was not too late to make reparation for that. She could still be his wife. His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls.

Three o’clock struck, and four, and the half-hour rang its double chime, but Dorian Gray did not stir. He was trying to gather up the scarlet threads of life and to weave them into a pattern; to find his way through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through which he was wandering. He did not know what to do, or what to think. Finally, he went over to the table and wrote a passionate letter to the girl he had loved, imploring her forgiveness and accusing himself of madness. He covered page after page with wild words of sorrow and wilder words of pain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven.

Suddenly there came a knock to the door, and he heard Lord Henry’s voice outside. “My dear boy, I must see you. Let me in at once. I can’t bear your shutting yourself up like this.”

He made no answer at first, but remained quite still. The knocking still continued and grew louder. Yes, it was better to let Lord Henry in, and to explain to him the new life he was going to lead, to quarrel with him if it became necessary to quarrel, to part if parting was inevitable. He jumped up, drew the screen hastily across the picture, and unlocked the door.

“I am so sorry for it all, Dorian,” said Lord Henry as he entered. “But you must not think too much about it.”

“Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?” asked the lad.

“Yes, of course,” answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair and slowly pulling off his yellow gloves. “It is dreadful, from one point of view, but it was not your fault. Tell me, did you go behind and see her, after the play was over?”

“Yes.”

“I felt sure you had. Did you make a scene with her?”

“I was brutal, Harry—perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I am not sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to know myself better.”

“Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I would find you plunged in remorse and tearing that nice curly hair of yours.”

“I have got through all that,” said Dorian, shaking his head and smiling. “I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, to begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest thing in us. Don’t sneer at it, Harry, any more—at least not before me. I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Summary

In this celebrated work Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Copyright © 1890 by Oscar Wilde.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

I appreciate your subtlety

This is a quote from the book This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

Quote by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, “I appreciate your subtlety. Not every battle’s grand, not every weapon fierce. Even we who fight wars through time forget the value of a word in the right moment, a rattle in the right car engine, a nail in the right horseshoe… It’s so easy to crush a planet that you may overlook the value of a whisper to a snowbank.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

This is How You Lose the Time War – Summary

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

Copyright © 2019 by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Five translated books for Pride Month

Photo by Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro on Unsplash

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.

LGBTQIA2S+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, and plus (anyone who doesn’t fit into one specific category)


Can you believe it’s already June?!

Well here we are, almost halfway through the year. That means it’s time for Pride Month!

I know in the past few years there’s been a heavy focus on “rainbow capitalism” and how corporations put on such a display for Pride Month. It’s obvious that most corporations are only participating in Pride Month as a marketing strategy. But that doesn’t negate the importance of this month.

Pride is an annual recognition of the Stonewall Riots, which marked a significant turning point in LGBTQIA2S+ rights in North America.

Pride started out as a riot and an act of resistance. We don’t want to lose that part of its history.

They were fighting for their human rights, and for others to better understand their humanity.

Around the world

Around the world, LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are still fighting for their rights. Each country has their own history and political climate around LGBTQIA2S+ rights, but all of our rights (and the fights for those rights) are interconnected and dependent on each other.

I believe one of the greatest ways we can improve the world is by having empathy and understanding each others’ experiences. The more we can accept others in all their humanity, the better we are able to listen and support them.

One of the easiest ways to learn about other people’s experiences is to listen to them talk about it. This can be through any kind of media; books, movies, social media, etc. or of course, in person.

Books are a great way to experience the world from a different perspective. Every time you read a book you are seeing the world from the characters’ perspective and getting immersed in their lives. What a great way to see the full spectrum of their humanity; all their feelings, their mistakes, their triumphs, their relationships, and everything else.

These five books are a great way to experience different perspectives of gender, of sexuality, of language, and of culture.

Each of these books are unique and come with an opportunity to learn something new from each.

Five translated books for Pride Month

Here’s a list of five books that have been translated to English and are great to read during Pride Month.

  1. Sphinx by Anne Garréta (1986)
    translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
  2. Notes of a Crocodile / 鱷魚手記 by Qiu Miaojin / 邱妙津 (1994)
    translated from the Chinese (Taiwan) by Bonnie Huie
  3. The Membranes / 膜 by Chi Ta-Wei / 紀大偉 (1995)
    translated from the Chinese (Taiwan) by Ari Larissa Heinrich
  4. A Country for Dying / Un pays pour mourir by Abdellah Taïa (2015)
    translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
  5. Tentacle / La mucama de Omicunlé by Rita Indiana (2015)
    translated from the Spanish (Dominican) by Achy Obejas

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published

Sphinx (1986)

by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

  • Year Published: 1986
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, lgbtqia+, literary, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Written without any gender markers or pronouns

A landmark literary event: the first novel by a female member of Oulipo in English, a sexy genderless love story.

Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, among others.

A beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and their lover, A***, written without using any gender markers to refer to the main characters, Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language.

Sphinx is a landmark text in the feminist, LGBT, and experimental literary canons appearing in English for the first time.

Links:

Notes of a Crocodile / 鱷魚手記 (1994)

by Qiu Miaojin (邱妙津), translated from the Chinese (Taiwan) by Bonnie Huie

  • Year Published: 1994 (English version in 2017)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, dark, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Qiu Miaojin was posthumously awarded the China Times Literature Award in 1995 for this book

Set in the post-martial-law era of late 1980s Taipei, Notes of a Crocodile depicts the coming-of-age of a group of queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan’s most prestigious university. Told through the eyes of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi, Qiu Miaojin’s cult classic novel is a postmodern pastiche of diaries, vignettes, mash notes, aphorisms, exegesis, and satire by an incisive prose stylist and countercultural icon.

Links:

The Membranes / 膜 (1995)

by Chi Ta-Wei (紀大偉), translated from the Chinese (Taiwan) by Ari Larissa Heinrich

  • Year Published: 1995
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, lgbtqia+, science fiction, speculative fiction, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Classic of queer speculative fiction in Chinese

It is the late twenty-first century, and Momo is the most celebrated dermal care technician in all of T City. Humanity has migrated to domes at the bottom of the sea to escape devastating climate change. The world is dominated by powerful media conglomerates and runs on exploited cyborg labor. Momo prefers to keep to herself, and anyway she’s too busy for other relationships: her clients include some of the city’s best-known media personalities. But after meeting her estranged mother, she begins to explore her true identity, a journey that leads to questioning the bounds of gender, memory, self, and reality.

First published in Taiwan in 1995, The Membranes is a classic of queer speculative fiction in Chinese. Chi Ta-wei weaves dystopian tropes–heirloom animals, radiation-proof combat drones, sinister surveillance technologies–into a sensitive portrait of one young woman’s quest for self-understanding. Predicting everything from fitness tracking to social media saturation, this visionary and sublime novel stands out for its queer and trans themes. The Membranes reveals the diversity and originality of contemporary speculative fiction in Chinese, exploring gender and sexuality, technological domination, and regimes of capital, all while applying an unflinching self-reflexivity to the reader’s own role. Ari Larissa Heinrich’s translation brings Chi’s hybrid punk sensibility to all readers interested in books that test the limits of where speculative fiction can go.

Links:

A Country for Dying / Un pays pour mourir (2015)

by Abdellah Taïa, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

  • Year Published: 2015
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction. lgbtqia+, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Written by Morocco’s first openly gay writer

An exquisite novel of North Africans in Paris by one of the most original and necessary voices in world literature

Paris, Summer 2010.

Zahira is 40 years old, Moroccan, a prostitute, traumatized by her father’s suicide decades prior, and in love with a man who no longer loves her.

Zannouba, Zahira’s friend and protege, formerly known as Aziz, prepares for gender confirmation surgery and reflects on the reoccuring trauma of loss, including the loss of her pre-transition male persona.

Mojtaba is a gay Iranian revolutionary who, having fled to Paris, seeks refuge with Zahira for the month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Allal, Zahira’s first love back in Morocco, travels to Paris to find Zahira.

Through swirling, perpendicular narratives,

A Country for Dying follows the inner lives of emigrants as they contend with the space between their dreams and their realities, a schism of a postcolonial world where, as Ta a writes, So many people find themselves in the same situation. It is our destiny: To pay with our bodies for other people’s future.

Links:

Tentacle / La mucama de Omicunlé (2015)

by Rita Indiana, translated from the Spanish (Dominican) by Achy Obejas

  • Year Published: 2015
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, lgbtqia+, science fiction, adventurous, challenging, medium-paced
  • Experimental science fiction that deals with questions of race, gender, and environmental change

Plucked from her life on the streets of post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, young maid Acilde Figueroa finds herself at the heart of a Santería prophecy: only she can travel back in time and save the ocean – and humanity – from disaster. But first she must become the man she always was – with the help of a sacred anemone. Tentacle is an electric novel with a big appetite and a brave vision, plunging headfirst into questions of climate change, technology, Yoruba ritual, queer politics, poverty, sex, colonialism and contemporary art. Bursting with punk energy and lyricism, it’s a restless, addictive trip: The Tempest meets the telenovela.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

My most insidious Blue

Excerpt from This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

My most insidious Blue,

How does one begin this sort of thing? It’s been so long since I last started a new conversation. We’re not so isolated as you are, not so locked in our own heads. We think in public. Our notions inform one another, correct, expand, reform. Which is why we win.

Even in training, the other cadets and I knew one other as one knows a childhood dream. I’d greet comrades I thought I’d never met before, only to find we’d already crossed paths in some strange corner of the cloud before we knew who we were.

So: I am not skilled in taking up correspondence. But I have scanned enough books, and indexed enough examples, to essay the form.

Most letters begin with a direct address to the reader. I’ve done that already, so next comes shared business: I’m sorry you couldn’t meet the good doctor. She’s important. More to the point, her sister’s children will be, if she visits them this afternoon and they discuss patterns in birdsong—which she will have done already by the time you decipher this note. My cunning methods for spiriting her from your clutches? Engine trouble, a good spring day, a suspiciously effective and cheap remote-access software suite her hospital purchased two years ago, which allows the good doctor to work from home. Thus we braid Strand 6 to Strand 9, and our glorious crystal future shines so bright I gotta wear shades, as the prophets say.

Remembering our last encounter, I thought it best to ensure you’d twist no other groundlings to your purpose, hence the bomb threat. Crude, but effective.

I appreciate your subtlety. Not every battle’s grand, not every weapon fierce. Even we who fight wars through time forget the value of a word in the right moment, a rattle in the right car engine, a nail in the right horseshoe… It’s so easy to crush a planet that you may overlook the value of a whisper to a snowbank.

Address the reader—done. Discuss shared business—done, almost.

I imagine you laughing at this letter, in disbelief. I have seen you laugh, I think—in the Ever Victorious Army’s ranks, as your dupes burned the Summer Palace and I rescued what I could of the Emperor’s marvelous clockwork devices. You marched scornful and fierce through the halls, hunting an agent you did not know was me.

So I imagine fire glinting off your teeth. You think you’ve wormed inside me—planted seeds or spores in my brain—whatever vegetal metaphor suits your fancy. But here I’ve repaid your letter with my own. Now we have a correspondence. Which, if your superiors discover it, will start a chain of questions I anticipate you’ll find uncomfortable. Who’s infecting whom? We know from our hoarse Trojans, in my time. Will you respond, establishing complicity, continuing our self-destructive paper trail, just to get in the last word? Will you cut off, leaving my note to spin its fractal math inside you?

I wonder which I’d rather. Finally: conclude. This was fun.

My regards to the vast and trunkless legs of stone, Red

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

This is How You Lose the Time War – Summary

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

Copyright © 2019 by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

It should have been distressing

This is a quote from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Quote by R.F. Kuang, “It should have been distressing. In truth, though, Robin found it was actually quite easy to put up with any degree of social unrest, as long as one got used to looking away.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Babel – Summary

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. The tower and its students are the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver-working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as the arcane craft serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide . . .

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Five sci-fi/fantasy books inspired by Chinese history

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


China has a long history, specifically a long written history. The oldest written records are about 3,500 years old!

This is by no means unique, there are other countries with thousands of years of history (i.e., Egypt and Mesopotamia).

But with such a long, recorded history, there is plenty of inspiration for authors to pull from.

These new books inspired by Chinese history are similar to the resurgence of Greek myth retellings, which allow for a fresh take by telling the story from the women’s point of view or highlighting characters previously seen as peripheral. I’m currently loving the fresh perspectives of stories inspired by Chinese history.

I love how women and nonbinary authors are finally being offered publishing deals to tell these diverse stories that draw inspiration from China, but are centering women, nonbinary, gender non-conforming individuals, and various types of relationships.

I find it fascinating to see how modern day issues, like gender, can be explored through a historical setting. For instance, in She Who Becomes the Sun the main character takes on her brother’s name and poses as a boy to seek refuge at a monastery. I think it shows that these ideas are nothing new, that the concepts are rarely black and white, and they’ve always played a role in our lives.

Personally, I love seeing diverse authors finding their voice and being recognized for their creativity. I love that different cultures and histories are becoming more widely recognized, accepted, and seen as valuable.

I find that being able to read from a variety of perspectives opens us up to more interesting stories. I sometimes struggle to read classics by old white men because their women characters often lack depth and I get tired of only reading about men.

I think classics have value in that they reflect the era they came from. But it makes me wonder how many fascinating stories we no longer have because they were not deemed valuable at the time or the storyteller had no means to write/publish the stories.

At least now more diverse voices are being offered a platform, and for everyone else there’s always the opportunity to self-publish online.

Photo by Kayla Kozlowski on Unsplash

Five sci-fi/fantasy books inspired by Chinese history

Here’s a list of five books with authors inspired by Chinese history or cultural stories.

  1. Strange Beasts of China/异兽志 (2006)
  2. The Poppy War (2018)
  3. The Empress of Salt and Fortune (2020)
  4. Iron Widow (2021)
  5. She Who Became the Sun (2021)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Strange Beasts of China/异兽志 (2006)

by Yan Ge (颜歌), translated from the Mandarin Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

  • Year Published: 2006
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, fantasy, literary, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Translated version published in 2021 through Tilted Axis press

From one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Chinese literature, an uncanny and playful novel that blurs the line between human and beast …

In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its fabled beasts. These creatures live alongside humans in near-inconspicuousness—save their greenish skin, serrated earlobes, and strange birthmarks.

Aided by her elusive former professor and his enigmatic assistant, our narrator sets off to document each beast, and is slowly drawn deeper into a mystery that threatens her very sense of self.

Part detective story, part metaphysical enquiry, Strange Beasts of China engages existential questions of identity, humanity, love and morality with whimsy and stylistic verve.

Links:

The Poppy War (2018)

by R.F. Kuang

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, historical, adventurous, dark, tense, medium-paced
  • R.F. Kuang’s first novel

An epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Links:

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (2020)

by Nghi Vo

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, lgbtqia+, emotional, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • First book published in the Singing Hills Cycle – but the books can be read in any order

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

Links:

Iron Widow (2021)

by Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them)

  • Year Published: 2021
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, lgbtqia+, science fiction, young adult, adventurous, dark, tense, fast-paced
  • New York Times Bet Seller and Hugo-award-disqualified (due to political censorship) author

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But it doesn’t go quite as she expects.

Links:

She Who Became the Sun (2021)

by Shelley Parker-Chan (they/them)

  • Year Published: 2021
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, historical, lgbtqia+, adventurous, dark, tense, medium-paced
  • Won both the Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards at the British Fantasy Awards

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu uses the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

Mulan meets The Song of Achilles; an accomplished, poetic debut of war and destiny, sweeping across an epic alternate China.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Watch. Just watch.

Excerpt from The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Photo by dirk von loen-wagner on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo.

It took another two days’ walk through the birch barrens before they came to the narrow beach of Lake Scarlet at dusk. The lake itself was almost perfectly circular, formed from the death of a falling star, and farther down the beach Chih saw the low green-tiled roof of the former empress’s compound. To their surprise, there was a lantern lit on the porch built over the water.

“Don’t tell me it’s looters already?”

As they watched, however, an old woman came walking out of the house with a smart step, and when she reached the railing, she stared out over the water and at the indigo sky above, where the stars were stepping forward. Chih was just wondering what to do when the old woman caught sight of them.

“Come over! You can see the lake better from here!”

Almost Brilliant kept her own counsel, so Chih picked their way along the rocky shore of the beach, coming up the shallow steps to the porch just as the last salmon light was leaving the sky. The old woman gestured for them to come closer.

“Come, you’re just in time.”

She indicated that Chih was meant to help themself from the small dish of sesame crackers on the railing, but she herself looked distracted, gazing over the black water and holding one cracker in her hand. After a few moments, she turned down the lantern wick until it emitted only a sullen glow.

“Grandmother, I’m here to—”

“Shush, girl, it’s happening.”

Above was the rapidly darkening sky. All around them was the darkness of the birch barrens, and spread out before them was Lake Scarlet, like a mirror reflecting nothing but night. At first, Chih thought it was their imagination, nothing more than a mirage that came after staring at something too hard, but then they realized that it was real. There was a faint glow coming from the water itself, something like the very last gleam of a dying hearth fire.

“What—”

“Shh. Watch. Just watch.”

Chih held their breath as the soft red glow brightened, sweeping across the lake like the sparks of New Year fireworks. It was brilliant, too hard to look at so very closely, and it flooded the water, enough so they could make out individual trees on the beach, the black silhouette of the night birds on the water, and the seamed face of the woman standing next to them, creased in pleasure.

“I was hoping it would go tonight. It’s still a little cold yet, but it has come even earlier in some years.”

Chih stood side by side with the woman, staring out over the pyrotechnic display before them. Just a short while after the red lights came up to their full brightness, they started to dim again. Chih counted in their head. When they had reached one hundred, there was only a faint reddish glow to the water.

The old woman sighed happily as she turned the lamp back up.

“Every time, it is like the first, and I have not seen it in sixty years. Come inside; it’s still too cold for my brittle bones.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Summary

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

Copyright © 2020 by Nghi Vo.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

The first rule…

This is a quote from the book of short stories called The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith.

Quote by Violet Kupersmith, “The first rule of the country we come from is that it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.”

Have you read any short stories by Violet Kupersmith? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

The Frangipani Hotel – Summary

From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there, to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster, to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam.

Copyright © 2014 by Violet Kupersmith

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part two: Polynesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Polynesia. If you’re interested, you can check out the post here about authors from Melanesia and Micronesia.

As you can see from the map, Polynesia is a huge area with many different nations, from Hawai’i to New Zealand. Each island and area is distinct, with their own rich cultural and historical understanding of the world.

In this list of book recommendations, I’ve tried to include some diversity, both regional and historical. But five books can only show so many perspectives. Consider this a jumping off point to learn about the region.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Braden Jarvis on Unsplash

Five books from Polynesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Polynesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)
  2. Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)
  3. Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)
  4. Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)
  5. Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)

by Queen Lili’uokalani
Note: the local spelling of Hawai’i has an okina (an apostrophe is used here) between the two i’s to reflect the proper pronounciation, but when searching for details on this book you may need to use the anglicized spelling (Hawaii).

  • Year Published: 1898
  • Author’s Country:
    Hawai’i
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, autobiography, history, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • The Queen’s account of her time as the reigning monarch, how pro-American forces overthrew her government, and the aftermath of the American intervention.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen is an account of those difficult years at the end of the nineteenth century, when native Hawaiian historian David Malo’s 1837 prophecy concerning “the small ones” being “gobbled up” came true for the Hawaiian Islands.

When this book was first published in 1898, it was an international plea for justice. Just as Admiral Thomas had restored Hawaiian sovereignty in 1843 following an illegal action by Lord Paulet, Queen Lili’uokalani prayed that the American nation would similarly reestablish the Hawaiian throne. Queen Lili’uokalani died on November 11, 1917, her poignant plea for justice unanswered.

Links:

Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)

by Chantal T. Spitz, translated from the French by Jean Anderson

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First novel by an indigenous French Polynesian writer

Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.

Links:

Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)

by Sia Figiel

  • Year Published: 1997
  • Author’s Country:
    Samoa
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, poetry, informative, slow-paced
  • First novel published by a Samoan woman in the USA
  • Won the 1997 Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

A bestseller in New Zealand and winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Prize, Sia Figiel’s debut marks the first time a novel by a Samoan woman has been published in the United States.

Figiel uses the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi to talk back to Western anthropological studies on Samoan women and culture. Told in a series of linked episodes, this powerful and highly original narrative follows thirteen-year-old Alofa Filiga as she navigates the mores and restrictions of her village and comes to terms with her own search for identity.

Links:

Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)

by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

  • Year Published: 2004
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

In Tahiti, it’s a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all — or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.

Links:

Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Across the Oceanic region, editors are both from New Zealand
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, short stories, challenging, reflective, medium-paced

A stunning collection of Oceanic stories for the 21st century.

Stones move, whale bones rise out of the ground like cities, a man figures out how to raise seven daughters alone. Sometimes gods speak or we find ourselves in a not-too-distant future. Here are the glorious, painful, sharp and funny 21st century stories of Maori and Pasifika writers from all over the world. Vibrant, provocative and aesthetically exciting, these stories expand our sense of what is possible in Indigenous Oceanic writing.

Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti present the very best new and uncollected stories and novel excerpts, creating a talanoa, a conversation, where the stories do the talking. And because our commonalities are more stimulating than our differences, the anthology also includes guest work from an Aboriginal Australian writer, and several visual artists whose work speaks to similar kaupapa.

Join us as we deconstruct old theoretical maps and allow these fresh Black Marks on the White Page to expand our perception of the Pacific world.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

At the very beginning

Excerpt from The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book of short stories called The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith.

I WILL START at the very beginning—the beginning we all were taught as children.

Thousands of years ago, a dragon prince and a fairy spirit fell in love. They married, and the fairy bore one hundred eggs, which hatched into one hundred beautiful children. However, the dragon lived beneath the sea, while the fairy’s home was in the mountains, and they could not be together. Fifty of the children went to live with their mother in the high hills of the North, and fifty of the children went south to the coast, where they learned to fish and make boats while their father watched over them from his palace beneath the waves. These children were the first people of Vietnam.

There is a place very close to the center of my country where the green fingers of the southern mountains almost touch the sea. The water there used to be the loveliest in all of the country—warm, clear, and teeming with fish. The buildings of the fishing hamlet by the bay were painted pink and green and turquoise, and the crumbling remains of a Cham temple overlooked it all from the hills. On the outskirts, where the town began to give way to jungle, in a yellow, colonial house, Vu Nguyen’s wife was giving birth. Huong came from a long line of beautiful and tempestuous women, and she thrashed and let out long, guttural screams while Mrs. Dang, the midwife, tried to calm her. Vu was pacing out by a bamboo grove in the yard, trying to ignore the sounds from inside and occasionally looking up at the rainclouds curdling in the sky. It was the beginning of the monsoon season.

Eventually, there was silence from the house. Vu drew in a long breath, looked up at the dark sky, exhaled, then turned and went in. He came across Mrs. Dang first; she was in the kitchen making a pot of tea, and Vu blanched when he saw that she had not washed her hands. He was a very slight man, and at the sight of her fingers and forearms stained with red he almost fell over.

“Anh Vu, congratulations! I’ll bring you a chicken for supper.” In addition to being the local midwife, Mrs. Dang bred noisy brown chickens that were always escaping from their pen and running loose in the streets. “Now go in and see your children!” She grinned at him with betel-nut–stained teeth.

“My children?”

“Ai-ya!” Mrs. Dang exclaimed, striking her forehead with her hand and accidentally smearing it with red. “How stupid—I spoiled the surprise!”

Vu rushed into the bedroom, where he found Huong and his surprise. His wife’s hair was matted and sweaty, and she had a cigarette in her mouth and two little bundles in her arms. Twins. Timidly, he approached their little trinity.

“They’re girls, Vu,” said Huong, exhaling a gray ribbon of smoke. “I know that’s not what you wanted. And there’s two of them.”

Vu came over and sat on the edge of the bed, carefully avoiding the soils from the birth on the sheets. The babies were awake and blinking their eyes—blue eyes in dark faces. Milky blue eyes, like those of Siamese cats. Outside, the distant rainstorm rumbled. Vu shuddered.

He named the girls Vi and Nhi.

Have you read any short stories by Violet Kupersmith? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Frangipani Hotel – Summary

From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there, to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster, to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam.

Copyright © 2014 by Violet Kupersmith

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.