I chose two not so great books to bring with me to Boliva, along with one pretty good and one really great book. Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee had seemed so interesting—a Korean woman, abandoned by her mother at the market in Seoul, writes on never quite fitting into her life. Her adoptive American parents never quite understand her. She flees to Europe as soon as she can, where she flits from relationship to relationship, falling in love with the man who founded L’Occitane. This was supposed to be a biography about finding oneself and yet at the end I found it a flat portrait of a very unhappy woman, with some lovely descriptions of food.
I didn’t expect much from the next book either, Bar Flower by Lea Jacobson, her story of being a nightclub hostess in Tokyo. I didn’t learn more than I already knew about the hostess scene in Tokyo and the stories of Jacobson’s alcoholic mishaps grew tiresome.
I had brought Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam based on some good word of mouth buzz, and I was not disappointed by this debut story collection. The comparisons to the television show Grey’s Anatomy will be rampant, but that’s merely because all of the stories deal with medical personnel and their lives. Don’t let that dissuade you from reading this powerful collection.
The book I couldn’t put down, even while roaming around La Paz, turned out to be Stephen Carter’s mammoth novel New England White. Carter writes about the country’s most influential African-Americans and opens the novel with a murder. Lemaster Carlyle, the new president of a prestigious New England university, and his wife Julia, who serves as the dean of the divinity school, happen upon the corpse of the notorious economics profession Zellen Kant (who also happens to be Julia’s ex-lover) on a drive home one evening. This sets in motion a slew of events for the large cast of characters. This is more than a literary whodunit. This is a deft portrait of upper crust African-Americans, a sect of the US that goes largely unnoticed, and also an exploration of the complexities of human nature. Carter doesn’t let the plot get too out of control and ably fleshes out all of the characters, big and small, so well that I found myself digging this 550 page book out of my bag at every opportunity.