Jul 3, 2008

Book Review: Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang


An armchair traveler like myself gets a kick out of reading books that combine mystery, adventure, and information about other countries. One of these is The Eye of Jade, set in modern day Beijing, where a young detective Mei Wang hunts for a missing piece of Han dynasty jade and comes across a murder in the process. The book describes interesting scenes from every day life in Beijing - the food, traffic, modern apartment buildings, the mixture of old and new, and life in the 1980s after Mao Tse Tung. The author, Diane Wei Liang, was born in Beijing and took part in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, so I trust her observations.

I have also started The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White. set in Istanbul, Turkey. The main plot is a little far-fetched, reminding me in this respect of The Da Vinci Code, as it's about a missing silver box, lost since 1453, that contains the proof of the existence of God. The main character, local magistrate Kamil Pasha of Istanbul, is caught up in the drama as the book takes up the story in 1887. Life in Turkey in the late 19th century is described in detail, and the city architecture features prominently. The book is written by a professor of anthropology at Boston University whose expertise is in Turkish politics and society.

And then there is The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings, which takes place in Siam in the early 1900s. An aspiring opera singer marries a young medical missionary who takes her to the northern jungles of Siam, now Thailand, where she is instantly criticized by older missionaries and their wives for being too modern and liberal in her views. She had been a supporter of the vote for women and marched at home in Boston with the suffragettes! A former lawyer, now novelist, the author must have done some serious research about Siam the the royal court at the time.

Jun 28, 2008

More Feng Shui Mystery

Just discovered: Singapore Feng Shui practioner C.F. Wong and his assistant, main characters in The Feng Shui Detective by Nury Vittachi. Seems to have been printed around 2004.

Jun 22, 2008

Currently Reading and Gardening

Whiskey and Water by Nina Wright, a mystery featuring a real estate agent Whiskey Mattimoe and her Afghan hound Abra, set on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Next on the list, The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall, a Puzzle Lady Mystery with crossword and sudoku puzzles sprinkled throughout the book for the reader to figure out. Solutions also included.

I mean to also read The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen about a young singer in the 1920s whose husband is a medical missionary who becomes physician to the royal court of Siam. She travels around the world to find her place as a singer. The part about Siam intrigues me, especially the Siam of the early 1900s.

I have also borrowed from the library, The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang, a new detective series set in China, written by a Beijing-born woman who took part in the Student Democracy Movement in the 1980s in China, has a Ph.D in business administration from the U.S., and left teaching after 10 years to write for a living from London, where she now lives. More Chinese mystery novels!

In the meantime, I also have to tend to the garden, where spring flowers have finished blooming and summer ones have not yet come up. The spirea bush needs trimming, and the mushroom mulch needs to be tucked around roots so that the roses and clematis start producing flowers again! Trying to use only organic type of fertilizers but will have to spray the rose bushes as they have some sort of brown spotting on the leaves.

Can't wait till winter-spring to use what I learned in a three-hour tree pruning workshop I attended two weeks ago. (How much can you learn in 3 hours?) The Rose of Sharon and the red acer palmatum (Japanese maple) in the back as well as the green one in the front both need some shaping and controlling. Alas, I don't have the skill of Japanese gardeners, but will have to experiment.

Jun 16, 2008

Almost Spring in Kyoto


It was mid-March, just before spring, when I traveled for the first time to Kyoto, Japan. This Torii, a Shinto gateway, is flanked by evergreen trees. It is one of the largest in Japan.


The Torii leads to the sprawling Shinto Heian-jingu Shrine. A stone lion stands guard in the forefront.



Gardens surrounding the shrine are still under the spell of winter, with a promise of spring to come.

Jun 15, 2008

Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng

Steer Toward Rock

A new novel by Fae Myenne Ng, American born Chinese, who writes about new Chinese immigrants and Chinese born Americans in California. Jack Moon Szeto is caught between the world of San Francisco and the world of old China, which follows him to this new country. Set in the 1960's, the novel deals with love and marriage, old traditions and the search for the new.

I am enjoying a very good book about a Chinese poet making a living as a chef in Georgia, by Ha Jin, A Free Life, which I am just about half way through. Next I'll start reading this new novel, Steer Toward Rock, published May 2008 by Hyperion. The immigrant experience once again, this time in San Francisco's China Town.

Jun 12, 2008

A Free Life by Ha Jin

My latest read - am about half-way through Ha Jin's A Free Life, a novel that describes the life of a Chinese student studying at Brandeis who is stranded in the U.S. after Tiananmen and who tries to make a life here with his wife and young son. A great book that helps us to understand the new immigrant experience.


May 10, 2008

A Person of Interest by Susan Choi

Now reading Susan Choi's A Person of Interest, about an Asian professor, Lee, a mathematician at a midwestern university, who becomes a person of interest in the investigation of a mail bomb that kills a computer science professor whose office just happens to be next to Lee's. Novel was partly influenced by the real-life case of Taiwanese professor, Wen Ho Lee (who was acquitted of charges brought against him at his place of work), according to the book promo.

I'm impressed by her writing in A Person of Interest and her skill in getting us involved in the intricacies of her main character's thinking and how he might be perceived by others around him.

Choi's 2007 novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize last year. She is, by the way, part Korean and part European American, but born in Indiana.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...