Oct 8, 2012

Book Review: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang

Title: What the Zhang Boys Know: A Novel in Stories
Author: Clifford Garstang
Paperback published October 1, 2012; Press 53
Objective rating: 5/5

There are twelve short stories making up this novel, featuring the residents of the Nanking Mansion condominium at the edge of Washington D.C.'s Chinatown.

Comments: These are moving stories of lives accidentally touching through close proximity in the condominium of a busy cosmopolitan city. I found it excellent writing and story telling, realistic, with a framework that is perfect for these stories of urban life.

Linking the residents together are the Zhang boys, the two children of Zhang and his deceased American wife, Maddie. The children see and hear and observe a lot about the condominium residents, even though they might not fully understand everything, being quite young, one just starting kindergarten and the other not yet old enough for preschool. Simon and Wesley are often playing in the corridors or on the stairs, or might wander down into the basement, and so are in contact with the condo residents. Many befriend the boys, who may get a piece of chocolate or even dollar bills to be quiet and not tell anyone about some of the little things they come across, see, and may know.

At the beginning of the book, Mr. Zhang takes the boys to bring back their grandfather from China, to help take care of them. His friend Jessica comes over to help too, and is expected to one day fill the gap left by the boys' mother. But the boys, too young to understand death, expect their mother to come home any day. At one point, they leave home together, to try to find her in the streets of the busy city.

Book synopsis: The stories spotlight Zhang’s neighbors as they seek to fill gaps in their own lives: the young bookseller diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; the young lawyer trying to cope with a failed marriage; the obsessive painter haunted by the image of a face; the middle-aged woman forced to sell her possessions in order to survive; the sculptor, overwhelmed by longing for the son he didn’t know he had. And then there are the Zhang boys, who firmly believe that their mother is coming back. What is it that they know? (book description)

Clifford Garstang is the author of the story collection In an Uncharted Country and co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine. He is also author of the literary blog Perpetual Folly. Garstang served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea and practiced international law in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Singapore. Subsequently, he worked as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan and was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Garstang teaches creative writing at Writers.com and elsewhere.

He currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
For other book reviews, visit TLC Book Tour for What the Zhang Boys Know.
Submitted to Immigrant Stories Challenge 2012


The Bookworm said...

This sounds like an intriguing book.

Zibilee said...

I hadn't heard of this one. It does sound like it has a lot going for it, and that there are a lot of interesting story angles competing with one another. Glad you liked it! I will have to see if my library has it!

Harvee said...

Z: Actually the stories weave in and out of each other and so don't compete. A kind of intriguing tapestry.

Suko said...

This sounds like a terrific, intertwined collection of short fiction. Very nice review!

Carol said...

I like the idea that they are all short stories, but still connected. Sounds interesting.

Staci said...

This one sounds really interesting!!

Chinoiseries said...

Short stories that work well together, sounds like a captivating read!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

"excellent writing and story telling" - that is high praise indeed!

Thanks for being on the tour.

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