isa See is the author of Peony in Love and the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her new novel, Shanghai Girls, has just been published by Random House.
The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr (Akashic, $16). A literary novel masquerading as noir fiction. An older Japanese man, a movie star during the Silent Era, goes back in time to tell the story of his career in Hollywood and the murder that drove him from the business.
The Handyman by Carolyn See (Ballantine, $19). My favorite of my mother’s novels. While waiting to start art school, Bob becomes a handyman. Going from house to house and disaster to disaster, he discovers that while he’s not very good at fixing things, he’s very good at repairing people’s lives. It’s about the origins of fame, the quirks of destiny, and what it means to be an artist.
L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy (Grand Central, $15). A masterpiece. Brilliant, violent, and beautiful. Nothing more need be said.
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan (Penguin, $14). Although The Joy Luck Club is more famous, Tan’s 1991 follow-up is a better novel. The conversational and confessional tone reminds me of the women on the Chinese side of my family. It’s about happiness winning over bitterness and abandoning regrets to live free of sorrows.
The Chinchilla Farm by Judith Freeman (Norton, $14). Verna Flake (great name!) flees Utah, her religion, and a failed marriage to embark on a journey that will take her to California and Mexico. Freeman’s approach to her eccentric characters is big, generous, and open.
Hungry Ghosts by Jasper Becker (Holt, $20). A stunning account of China’s Great Leap Forward, during which 30 million people starved to death. In a virtuoso act of journalism, Becker conducted numerous interviews with survivors, tracked down hidden archival material, and went to some of the areas where the worst tragedies—cannibalism, torture, state-sponsored terror, and flat-out murder—occurred. This book is a grim reminder of how cruel human beings can be, how well governments keep secrets, and just how far people will go to survive.
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