the dancing girl and the turtle
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is my debut novel, published in April 2017 by Linen Press.
The story is set in Shanghai 1937. Song Anyi is a rebellious young woman determined to live on her own terms. She’s stymied by the old-fashioned ways of her brother Kang, the illicit desires of her cousin Cho and the war with the Japanese.
There is violence in this novel, just as there is violence in the lives of more women than we’d like to think. Some of it is self-inflicted; very little is deserved. Anyi is the voice of every woman denied a place at the table and every girl whose shame led her to self-harm.
You can read about the process of bringing The Dancing Girl and the Turtle from manuscript to book, the book launch, my first California book tour and all my upcoming events. For reviews of my novel and interviews with me, look here. If you’d like to see my non-fiction work, take a look at my Essays page.
the shanghai quartet: a work in progress
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is the first of four interlocking novels set in Shanghai. Upon completion, The Shanghai Quartet will span a tumultuous quarter century of Chinese history: war with the Japanese, the influx of stateless Jews, civil war and revolution. Characters from The Dancing Girl and the Turtle will reappear, some at center stage, to tell their own stories.
Here is a quick preview of the other three volumes of the Shanghai Quartet, now in progress.
Max Lazerich stows away on a boat headed for China. How can a boy like him, with little education and no money, survive in a place like Shanghai? In The Smell of Opium, Max struggles with duty to his family in Depression-era America, the Jews flooding Shanghai and the woman he loves but cannot understand.
Laogai is Song Kang’s cry for forgiveness. He’s been sent to a labor camp for a crime he’d happily commit again. But there are other matters that weigh on his conscience. He writes on slips of pilfered paper hoping to reach the one person he loves to ask for her understanding.
Jin has survived war and revolution, husband and child. Her daughter Song Li has only one wish: to attend university. But in 1950s China, even wearing glasses could be an act of subversion. Peace Court is a black comedy told in the form of self-criticism, struggle sessions and police station confessions.
Moon Cakes was published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (June 2016). Fun fact: this is the back story of Wong Jin, a supporting character from The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. Jin will come into her own in Peace Court.
Words Fly By was published in Jabberwock Review (Winter 2015). It, too, has its roots in China though drawn from contemporary life: the process of losing the power of speech. See also the lovely review of this short story published in NewPages.com (July 2015).
“At the Convent“, new University (Fall 1980?)
“The Girl with the Patch” and “Grandmother,” a chapbook (1980?)
I wish I could show you these chapbooks, especially since Yusef Komunyaaka edited both. But I lost a box of beloved books during the move from LA to DC. I hope someone out there is still enjoying them.
Here is a draft of “The Girl with the Patch” that I found the other day. It may be the version that was ultimately published.
The Girl with the Patch
A girl has fallen in the schoolyard.
She waits on a bench in front of the school
holding hands with the nurse.
Her father has been notified.
The school sends flowers.
Sister Paul Anthony’s third grade class
practices GET WELL SOON in clear script.
The doctor recommends plastic surgery.
For now, she’ll have a small scar,
if it bothers her, well,
get her a patch.
The girl stays in at recess
doesn’t get to play with scissors
or the bigger boys.
The principal comes in to see her
pats her head
says it looks much better now my dear.
Certain days the girl will place
the patch on her left eye
to go downtown when the bus
runs north and south and the stores
are on the right.
Other days nothing pleases her more
than to slip her bodice to one side and show
the patch that covers a scar but please
don’t speak of it.
Today the patch appeared on her forehead
and I heard she swooned six times
in the arms
of full-chested women.
I think she pushes her face between
to feel her face cool
If it had been me I would have run
never gone back again
but it was her
eating out late in a diner
and I suppose it was her fault
that he came and asked her name
reached over to touch her
and saw her patch.
He must have smiled and asked to see
sitting in that grimy booth with the lights
from the road passing on and on.
She must have laughed
or turned away
and he must have laughed, too.
They say the two of them laughed all night
and when she left
she left him smiling
his face turned up to the ceiling
a small black patch on the floor.
Originally published on 27 November 2016. Last updated on 29 June 2017.