The latest novel from National Book Award-winning author James McBride, “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store”, begins with a murder mystery and ends with a triumphant survival.
As with his notable 2020 novel “Deacon King Kong”, we are transported to another colorful neighborhood. This time, Chicken Hill in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The story opens in 1972 with the discovery of skeletal remains and then goes back 50 years to the 1920s and 30s to reveal how they got there.
Inhabited by an assortment of Jews, Blacks, and European immigrants of German, Romanian, and Bulgarian origin, the author brings to life the racial and ethnic conflicts and divides of a community trying to co-exist. We meet Moshe, a Romanian Jew, who is married to Chona, a handicapped American Jew devoted to her grocery store and the mix of neighbors it serves. When Chona steps up to protect an orphaned and deaf Black boy from a cruel fate, the community residents find common purpose in their humanity.
“The Heaven and Earth Grocery Story” showcases McBride’s ability to eloquently deliver a despairing story concurrently infused with heart and hope. This moving tale will buoy the spirit.
Yunte Huang’s new biography, “Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History” spotlights the life and times of the first Chinese American cinema star.
Despite her humble origins working in a Los Angeles Chinatown family laundry, little Anna fantasized about becoming a movie star. Huang chronicles Wong’s ascension to screen siren, from the silent movies of the 1920s to the talkies, vaudeville, theater, and finally, television in the 1950s.
The writer’s lively and sympathetic portrayal of the trailblazing actor’s career focuses on her talent and determination. Wong struggled with the racism of the times. Her roles were limited to those that leveraged her “exoticism”, casting her as either a villainous “Dragon Lady” or a tragic “Madame Butterfly”. Huang defends the largely forgotten movie icon’s need to accept work that perpetuated racial stereotypes and imagery because it was the only work offered to her by the studios.
At the 95th Academy Awards this year, Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for lead actress. Brandishing her trophy, she said, “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility.” Huang’s book underscores the significance of Yeoh’s recognition and is a fitting bookend to Anna May Wong’s double-edged experience.
Fourteen years since the publication of “Cutting for Stone”, which spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, Abraham Verghese returns with “The Covenant of Water”. The long-awaited work is another extraordinary product of the author’s dual career as novelist and as professor and doctor of medicine.
This monumental, lengthy (exceeding 700 pages), and intricately drawn family saga is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast. It’s a family fable spanning three generations, from 1900 to 1977, which follows the secret affliction that haunts them.
A 12-year-old village girl readying to marry her 40-year-old future husband in 1900 and a young Scottish doctor who travels to India during colonial times, are parallel and seemingly disparate stories. Layered with dozens of other vibrant characters, they may challenge the reader until Verghese weaves surprising and meaningful connections out of the maze.
The book is a testament to Verghese’s impressive ability to create a moving epic steeped with a mix of medicine, culture, and the Divine. Countless hardships, natural calamities, and accidents are endured with courage and love and are all absorbed by the power of family devotion.