21 September 2012

Following is from Sue Halpern, editor of NYRB’s new ebook series.  I am actually breathing a sigh of relief.  The anxiety of being one these writers “whose first books had been critical successes [but] were unable to find publishers for their second” hovers; but it’s going to be okay.  NYRB is publishing these writers, whose books are “loved” by editors who can’t publish them.

A few years ago, around the time I was writing a piece for The New York Review of Booksabout digital reading devices, I ran into a novelist who mentioned that many of his friends whose first books had been critical successes were unable to find publishers for their second. The economics of traditional publishing, he pointed out, did not favor non-commercial books, and when you added in the threat that digital technology posed to bookstores, the end result would be an ever-shrinking market for serious literary books.

The Water Theatre
by Lindsay Clarke

As a writer myself—my sixth book will be published next spring—I was sensitive to the novelist’s lament. I love books—not just their words, but their feel and smell and look; cracking the spine of a paperback is one of life’s great guilty pleasures. But to my surprise, I was finding in my hands-on research for The New York Review that a good story transcends its medium:  I could get just as lost in an e-book as I could in a book bound between hard covers.  By using the less-expensive e-book platform to introduce readers to writers they would not otherwise encounter, the digital “revolution,” as it was being called, could be harnessed to promote literary culture rather than undermine it.

What better place to launch this venture than New York Review Books, which was already leading discerning readers to great and often forgotten classics of literature?  But unlike the NYRB Classics series, these books would be by contemporary authors, writers of depth and insight whose work was being bypassed by traditional American publishing because the economics did not favor them.  If any audience would be receptive, I reasoned, it would be the adventurous NYRB crowd.

Sometime later I was sitting in the office of an editor at one of the Big Six publishing houses, a man of exquisite literary taste who had been in the business a long time, explaining the premise of this new venture, which we had named NYRB Lit. I was nervous—did he think it was nutty or misdirected or a waste of time? He turned away for a moment and reached for a pile of papers on his desk. “I love this book,” he said handing it to me, “but we are not going to be able to publish it here.”  That word, “love,” is what animates how I want each book to come to me. I am looking for books that someone—an editor, an agent, a writer, a reader—is passionate about, a book that he or she believes must be read.

The Water Theatre, the book that was given to me that day, is now the inaugural book in the NYRB Lit series. Written by Lindsay Clarke…

This is kind of the best news I’ve heard in a while.


24 April 2012

The Polish edition of Long for This World.  Anyone happen to read Polish?

22 August 2011

Some wonderful friends are still out there letting me know when they see Long for This World in fun places.

At the Fairfield, CT Library – “Travel Abroad Through Books” display


At the Phillips Andover Academy library (it’s been decades since I’ve seen either of these two souls – don’t they look great?!)

15 June 2011

Long for This World is a featured title in Salem Press’s Magill’s Literary Annual 2011, just released. This means that an in-depth essay-review has been commissioned and published in the Annual. From Salem Press’s description:

Each year, Magill’s Literary Annual critically evaluates 200 major examples of serious literature, both fiction and nonfiction, published during the previous calendar year.

The philosophy behind our selection process is to cover works that are likely to be of interest to general readers, that represent the major literary genres, that reflect publishing trends, that are written by authors being taught in literature programs, and that will stand the test of time.

These reviews are about four pages long – much more detailed and thorough than most magazine and journal reviews.  Here are some highlights from the essay-review, written by C. L. Chua:

Sonya Chung’s Long for This World is a most promising debut novel of ambitious spatial scope and intriguing psychological depth. For Chung’s “world” is nothing less than the whole contemporary, jet-spanned globe as well as the exquisitely wrought, infinite spaces of her protagonists’ interior psyches. Indeed, the novel’s characters, locales, and events form a transnational, extended-family saga, involving a host of personages leading varied lives in different cultures on several continents, all of which is narrated through a polyphony of narrative viewpoints.

The length of such a complex book could have easily rivaled that of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886), to which Chung nods at one point in her novel, but Chung seems to be applying a principle of imagism in order to keep her narrative compact. She hints at this principle in the coda of her novel when her first-person narrator, Jane, an internationally acclaimed photojournalist, mounts an exhibit of her work significantly entitled “Accidental Family.”

Chung’s structures her narrative through the presentation of verbal snapshots of time, place, and persons, allowing the snapshots to relate a story through imagistic juxtaposition or contrast, by zooming in to elaborate with details or zooming out for a holistic perception. Chung’s narrative, then, is not linear; its events are not linked causally but casually, almost accidentally, and the reader is drawn into constructing the links between Chung’s images of moments in a contingent existence. Chung’s verbal images are themselves gems of brilliant clarity and sharp focus—whether they be of the delicate minutiae of the preparation of a Korean meal, the visceral fear of a woman confronting a snarling dog, or the skin-scouring details of a Korean bath house […]

Sonya Chung’s Long for This World is a strikingly accomplished novel of a new talent. Rich with brilliant verbal images, complex family relationships spanning multiple generations on two continents, and sharply realized characters both flawed and admirable, Chung’s novel is a disturbing photo album that interrogates its viewer about a highly contingent contemporary existence in which it is just as easy to feel that things happen for no reason as to feel that they do happen for a reason.

Nice cover image, eh?

Authors included this year are Martin Amis, Louise Erdrich, Chang-rae Lee, Steig Larsson, Alexander McCall Smith, Sue Miller, Kenzaburo Oe, Scott Turow, Michael Lewis, Sam Lipsyte, David Remnick, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Robert Stone, Ian McEwan, Patti Smith, Anne Carson, Rebecca Skloot, among others.

26 January 2011

It’s been creeping up on me.  This thing about not being on Facebook.  I’m there, but not really.  I was there — posting and commenting — during the busy months of book release last spring and summer; now I check in when people send messages or friend requests, but not much otherwise.  I just don’t have a natural impulse to share in a rapid-fire way; I don’t externalize in frequent blips.  I mull, I chew, fragments collide, then every so often I might have something to say.  The blog, which is just about obsolete now, is pretty much my speed.

But more and more, I feel it.  Everyone’s “over there.”   The conversation is happening.  I’m not part of it.  I recently clicked on the “People You May Know” link, and it was pretty stark; most of the people I need/want to be in touch with are all linked together and carrying on The Conversation(s), literary and otherwise.  On Facebook.  The President included a Facebook mention in the State of the Union, for goodness sakes.

It’s a strange realization — it’s been there, hovering, but it seems somehow super-clear now: LIFE is happening on Facebook (literary and otherwise), in an undeniable way, an increasingly substantive way.  I thought perhaps literary writers would be slower to take to it, generally speaking, but that’s clearly not the case.

What I’m saying is that being inactive on Facebook is feeling less like, say, not having an iPhone, and more like not having a cell phone at all. (Soon it will feel like not having email.)

And being an active Facebook poster, for me, feels as unnatural as picking up the phone fives times a day to call friends and say, “This is what I’m doing.  This is what I’m thinking.  This is what I’m wondering.  This is what I’m reading.”

I don’t know how people do it.  Is the best strategy to pretend like there aren’t real people on the receiving end?

I haven’t even gotten anywhere near Twitter.

I just tried to import my blog feed into my Facebook profile; I figured, okay, here’s a link between the two at least.  Facebook rejected my efforts.  Couldn’t identify my URL or something.  Hmm… the saga continues.

9 January 2011

A nice mention from a public library’s Best of Fiction list.  This is the kind of thing that makes me feel like, Ok – it wasn’t a dream.  I did actually publish a book in 2010. (If this sounds incredibly solipsistic, do forgive me; but with all the awards and “Best of” lists that come out at the end of the year, you don’t even realize how it’s affecting you until something like this reveals it to you.)

Northbrook Public Library’s Best of Fiction 2010

Sarah Blake, The Postmistress.
In 1940, an American woman’s radio reports on the Blitz are heard back home by the wife of a doctor who goes to war and a Cape Cod postmistress who makes a fateful decision about a letter in her care.

Chris Bohjalian, Secrets of Eden.
A minister has a crisis of faith after a parishioner he baptized is found dead with her husband in an apparent murder-suicide.

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America.
A French nobleman whose parents survived the French Revolution is sent for his safety to America accompanied by an English servant.

Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures.
In 19th century England, a girl whose talent for discovering fossils makes her the target of gossip and suspicion is befriended by a like-minded London woman.

Sonya Chung, Long for This World.
Over 50 years after he emigrated to America, a man returns to Korea followed by his daughter—a war photographer recovering from injuries.

Jonathan Dee, The Privileges.
A couple marry straight out of college and ruthlessly pursue the life of privilege to which they feel entitled.

Anthony Doerr, The Memory Wall.
A collection of short stories focusing on the persistence  and loss of memory.

Emma Donoghue, Room.
A 5-year-old boy has spent his entire life in a room where his mother is being held captive by a man who kidnapped her, but one day she tells her son it’s time to escape.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
The past, present and futures lives of a former punk rocker turned record executive and his assistant.

Anne Fortier, Juliet.
An American travels to Siena in search of her Italian heritage and discovers she is descended from the woman who inspired the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Julia Franck, The Blindness of the Heart.
At the end of the war in Germany, a woman abandons her 7-year-old son in a train station.

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom.
A liberal couple with a seemingly idyllic marriage find their lives falling apart as their son gets involved with  conservative neighbors, the wife’s behavior becomes erratic, and the husband’s environmental values are compromised in his quest to save an endangered bird.

Julia Glass, The Widower’s Tale.
A recently retired widower finds his routines disrupted after he agrees to lease his barn to a preschool.

Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector.
Two sisters—one the successful CEO of a computer company, the other an environmental activist working in a bookstore—begin to question what’s important to them.

Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule.
A trainer attempts a horse racing scam at a small, backwoods track in West Virginia, but nothing goes according to plan. National Book Award winner.

David Grossman, To the End of the Land.
Fearing bad news about her son in the Israeli army, a woman goes on a hike in Galilee with a former lover who became a recluse after the Yom Kippur war.

Lisa Grunwald, The Irresistible Henry House.
An orphan who was raised by a series of women as a “practice baby” in a college home economics program grows up learning how to please women while remaining detached from them.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question.
A British gentile who envies his Jewish friend has an identity crisis after he’s attacked by a mugger whom he thinks mistook him for a Jew. Booker Prize winner.

Daphne Kalotay, Russian Winter.
As she prepares to auction her jewelry, an elderly woman recalls her past as a star of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Lily King, Father of the Rain.
After her parents separate, a girl watches her alcoholic father’s behavior become increasingly erratic.

Nicole Krauss, Great House.
The stories of four people are connected by a desk that was looted from the home of a Jewish man in Budapest during World War II.

Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation.
A girl who emigrates with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn must work in a Chinatown sweatshop at night while trying to excel at school during the day.

Chang-Rae Lee, The Surrendered.
During the Korean War, an American GI brings a refugee girl to an orphanage where they are both drawn to a troubled minister’s wife.

Andrea Levy, The Long Song.
A Jamaican slave is taken into the manor house by her mistress and lives through the slave revolt.

Sam Lipsyte, The Ask.
A man is fired from his job finding donors for a university arts program but is rehired at the behest of a wealthy former classmate—with strings attached.

Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn.
A company of Marines in the Vietnam jungle face the enemy and the elements as well as racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous officers.

Leila Meacham, Roses.
A multigenerational family saga centered on a woman who is determined to run her family’s Texas cotton plantation despite the personal cost to herself.

Maaza Mengiste, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze.
A doctor and his family are caught in the turmoil of the 1970s civil war in Ethiopia.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
In 1799, a Dutchman comes to an island off the coast of Japan to uncover fraud at the Dutch East Indies outpost and falls in love with a Japanese midwife.

Kate Morton, The Distant Hours.
When a long-lost letter arrives 50 years late, a woman unravels the secret past of her mother, who was evacuated during the Blitz to a castle where three sisters lived with their father—a famous children’s book author.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies.
When 14-year-old Skippy ends up dead on the floor of a donut shop, various students and teachers from his elite Dublin boarding school may have played a role.

David Nicholls, One Day.
A man and woman who met on the day they graduated from college go about their separate lives but maintain a connection to each other.

Howard Norman, What Is Left the Daughter.
During World War II, an young man orphaned by his parents’ suicides falls in love with a girl who’s involved with a German student.

Maggie O’Farrell, The Hand That First Held Mine.
The parallel stories of a journalist in 1950s London who became an unwed mother and a modern-day couple traumatized by a difficult childbirth.

Julie Orringer, The Invisible Bridge.
In 1937, three Hungarian Jewish brothers embark on separate paths, but their lives change as World War II begins.

Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists.
The staff of an English-language newspaper in Rome deal with personal dramas while trying to keep the paper operational.

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story.
In a near-future dystopian America, a middle-aged man yearns for a reluctant younger woman.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
In a small English village, a widowed army major forms a friendship with a Pakistani widow who runs the local shop.

Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters.
After her brother is killed in the Vietnam War, a woman goes to Saigon to work as a photojournalist.

Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist.
A man with four wives, twenty-eight children and a failing construction business has a midlife crisis.

Isabel Wolff, A Vintage Affair.
A woman leaves her job at Sotheby’s to open a vintage clothes shop and befriends an elderly Frenchwoman who’s reluctant to part with an old child’s coat.

3 December 2010

A very nice young woman came to see me the other day – a Korean student from Seoul, studying at another US college but visiting here for the semester.  She’d read Long for This World and came to the faculty reading (where I read along side my colleagues) a couple of weeks ago.

She was generous and effusive with her praise.  She is completely bilingual and writes fiction herself, in English at the moment.  She had some good thoughts for me about awkward honorifics in Long for This World.  Then she said: “This book should be published in Korea.  Everyone in Korea should read this.”

I laughed, of course.  Tell me about it, I wanted to say.  We tried.  Scribner tried.  Korean publishers did not bite (yet?!).

But the interaction had me thinking about those of us who write stories of cultures with which we have an inside/outside relationship.  A young Indian American woman who loves Jhumpa Lahiri‘s work told me that her parents and their friends don’t care for it.  Last night a friend described Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s stories as firmly set in Pakistan, about Pakistani lives, but very much written “from the outside” (for outsiders).

Currently, I am working on a book that renders characters and worlds of which I am personally completely outside.  Will readers who are inside the culture of the subjects resist/be indifferent to the work as Koreans are to Long for This World?  Of course the reasons for non-publication in Korea must be multiple, and economically-driven in a way I don’t myself grasp.  But all of this makes me think about why we write, why we write about what we write about, who we are in relation to what we write, for whom we write (if anyone)…  You know.  The Big Questions.