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Book bag: “Accomplice to Memory” by Q.M. Zhang and “Kinship of Clover” by Ellen Meeropol


Thursday, March 30, 2017

ACCOMPLICE TO MEMORY

By Q.M. Zhang

Kaya Press

kaya.com/authors/q-m-zhang/

Q.M. Zhang — known as Kimberly Chang at Hampshire College, where she teaches cultural psychology — grew up in upstate New York and lived in China and Hong Kong before coming to western Massachusetts.

Her work and writing examine questions of identity for people whose lives embrace different countries and cultures. And in “Accomplice to Memory,” Zhang uses her father and her relationship to him as the central narrative device for probing those issues.

Her book is a hybrid work: part memoir, part novel, part history. It might simply be called creative nonfiction, built around stories her father, Wang Kun, revealed to her late in his life about his days in China, first when the country was invaded by the Japanese in the 1930s, then during the Chinese Civil War, which ended in 1949.

Zhang’s father, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1950, had always stressed the difference between himself and his daughter, the author writes: “I am Chinese, you are American, he’d said, surprising even himself.”

Years later, Zhang listens to her father, now hospitalized, tell stories about China she’d never heard before, stories that seem to contradict his past tales. It prompts her to try to recall “the exact moment China came out of the closet and became a voluable presence in our home … when Chinese was no longer merely an adjective describing the food in the freezer.”

Zhang’s story, one reviewer writes, tends to mirror the contradictions in her father’s tales: “[She] abandons the singular narrative in favor of a troubled, unstable construction that exists between image and text, father and daughter, memory and history, reader and writer, in a stance that claims the collective experience as her own.”

Adding to the mysterious narrative are numerous uncaptioned black and white photos, some from her family and some from mid-20th-century Chinese history, including disturbing images from that violent time, like bodies piled on stone steps in a city and a Chinese man — presumably a Nationalist — about to be executed by a Communist soldier.

Q.M. Zhang reads from “Accomplice to Memory” Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

 

KINSHIP OF CLOVER

By Ellen Meeropol

Red Hen Press

www.ellenmeeropol.com

In her latest novel, Easthampton author Ellen Meeropol combines a bit of magical realism, environmental consciousness and a portrait of differently abled people to ask a broad question: “How do you stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world?”

At the heart of the story is Jeremy, a college botany student who as a boy had a singularly weird experience: vines had entwined around him and then burrowed into his body, a strangely pleasant experience that left him with a great love of the natural world.

After having grown up in a hippyish household in Springfield, Jeremy, now at UMass Amherst, has become obsessed with the extinction of plants around the world. After he intones the names of dead species during a college radio show, he’s taken to university health services out of concerns about his mental state.

Jeremy ends up going to stay with his brother, Tim, in Brooklyn, where he meets some climate-justice activists who would seem to share his concerns and beliefs.

But the activists’ plan for a making a big Earth Day splash begins to sound more and more like ecoterrorism — and Jeremy must decide whether he needs to take a dramatic stance for the planet’s health or protect people close to him, like his old girlfriend, Zoe, who uses a wheelchair, and her deteriorating, former rabble-rousing grandmother.

As one reviewer writes, “This is a book about time and love, politics and family, and it is sharply observant and deeply compassionate.”

Ellen Meeropol reads from “Kinship of Clover” Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley and on April 8 at 1 p.m. at White Square Books in Easthampton as part of Easthampton BookFest.