Guest Post : Book Review :Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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It seems that Jack has got the blogging bug……..or possibly he is looking for distractions from writing his dissertation. Here is another blog post from him :-

When my mum suggested that I read Everything I Never Told You in order to review it, I was a bit apprehensive. After reading the blurb and the first few chapters, I thought that this was going to be a whodunit-esque murder mystery and therefore I told myself that I would’t enjoy this book. I trudged along though and the more I read , the more I enjoyed the book.

The story focuses on the Lees, an Asian-American family, living in a small town in Ohio during the 1970’s. The family is made up of Marilyn, the mother, who has become the very thing she despises the most; James, the father, whose greatest wish is to just fit in ;Nath, their eldest child, who can’t wait to leave; Hannah, their youngest and the most observant of them all, and Lydia, the favourite child. We join the Lees on the morning of May 3rd 1977, the day that Lydia dies.

Although this book starts with a death, it is primarily about those that were left behind. We see the mystery of Lydia’s death unravel through the eyes of each of the family members and as we do, we learn more about each of them and more about Lydia as well. Having so many narrators can often be confusing, but Ng is able to move the story between each of the characters without interrupting the flow of the story, which, in my opinion, is an impressive feat.

The story also flits effortlessly between time frames. We learn about James’ and Marilyn’s childhoods, how they met and what happened that one summer before Lydia died, the thing that that no one can talk about. We learn about Lydia’s childhood too.

Ng highlights the natural frictions that exist within a family unit. All this tension kept me on the edge of my seat and made me want to find out how the family is going to cope, once all their secrets finally come out.

Ng also deals with what it is like to grow up under the ever constant shadow of parental expectation. She captures beautifully the struggle between making your family proud and being your own person.

Ng also explores  issues of race.  She uses the character of James,  the son of Chinese immigrants,  to investigate  this topic the most. James just wants to fit in and becomes a professor of American History, specifically studying cowboys. He is constantly searching for ways to blend in and disappear from the spotlight that he feels has been on him since he was a child. Marylin, however,  sees him differently. She loves James because of his ‘uniqueness’ not in spite of it. She also sees herself as being different and has
aspirations that extend beyond the kitchen, aspirations that she forces upon Lydia.

Ng tells an exciting story with refreshing characters. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read from an up-and-coming author and I am excited to see what else she has to offer.

Jack Chorley

Guest Post : The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun trans. Deborah Smith

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I am pretty tied up at the moment trying to read my way through the Bailey’s Prize Long-list.I am still being sent some lovely books to read and review and feeling pretty stressed out by it !

When I received The Salmon , by best-selling Korean Poet Ahn Do-hyun ,I knew immediately who would most want to read and enjoy this book : my son Jack Chorley. He’s a real East Asian literature fan and is at home on holiday from Uni at the moment. He only has a dissertation to write so has far more time than me to review books for a blog. So without further ado , over to you Jack.

First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone, even if they don’t share my love of East Asian literature . It would make an excellent “first book” when dipping your toes into the often confusing waters of Asian literature. This book is set out almost like a fairytale (it even has pictures in it!!) and follows the story of Silver Salmon as he makes his journey back to the mighty Green River to spawn. Unlike the rest of the salmon in his shoal, however, Silver Salmon is different . He is covered in silver scales, unlike the blue and white ones of his fellow Salmon, and he is also inquisitive about the world around him.

At first, as with a lot of the Asian literature I have read in the past, I thought this book would be about finding identity in the face of normality, even the title of the book seemed to hint at this. I believed this book would be about finding adventure when faced with a strict regime but although the story does deal with this at the beginning, by the end it’s about something else entirely. It has more to do with realizing that there is something bigger than the individual. Silver Salmon struggles with finding meaning in his life and doesn’t understand why he must travel up the Green River to spawn, a fate that means certain death for the salmon. Through his eyes we see the importance of finding your place in nature. Silver Salmon learns these truths through conversing with other aspects of nature such as the leaves, a stepping-stone and the Green River itself.

This is also a love story. Silver Salmon meets Clear-Eyed Salmon, a female in his shoal, and even though biology dictates that they must mate, they decide to do so out of love. Clear-Eyed Salmon teaches Silver Salmon how the see through the “eyes of the heart”, which, for much of the book, means looking through the eyes of nature itself. This enables Silver Salmon to see beauty where he couldn’t before. This, along with some overt messages about the human relationship with nature, gives this book a certain conservational slant.

As a zoologist, I thought the language used by Ahn Do-hyun, and translated by Deborah Smith, and the message it sends is a beautiful and important one. Ahn Do-hyun highlights the human tendency to look at things as “other”, or below us, just like the salmon hawk looks down upon the Salmon. Throughout the story you realize that it is only by looking at nature as a whole and coming to peace with it that we will save it. We must put ourselves in the salmon’s shoes, as it were.

Finally this book is about passing on to future generations the message that the easy way is not always the right way. We must make our own decisions in our lives, even if they do not fit into our idealized view of the world. A salmon should take the salmon’s way, just as we must take the path that is set out for us and not for anyone else. The messages set out in this book are hard-hitting and speak  about a lot of aspects of humans relationship to nature. It may be written simply, but this means the messages are clear and free of pretension or ego. The message is the message, just like a salmon is a salmon.

Thank you to Jack for that wonderful review….not bad for a first attempt. A big thank you to Deborah Smith and Pan Macmillan for the review copy. The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher  is published on 9th April.