So, I initially wanted to participate in this as part of non-fiction November, but life happened – five months later, here I am! I really enjoyed reading other readers’ pairings last year, and I love the concept.
Meng Jing, ‘Little Gods’ and Mei Fong, ‘One Child’
Mei Fong’s One Child – subtitled ‘The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment’ blew me away. Mei Fong offers a nuanced and striking examination of the (in)famous one-child policy in China, the world’s largest experiment in social engineering. She dissects the long-reaching, and sometimes surprising, human impact of this policy and how it has shaped families and relationships for generations to come. And the fact that Meng Jin’s protagonist of Little Gods, Liya, is an only child – though not as a direct result of the one-child policy – shapes her life and the way she connects with her heritage. Having been raised in the U.S., Liya returns to China after the death of her mother, anxious to trace the fragile threads of her family history and with no known living relatives. In doing so, she weaves through and dissects contemporary Chinese history in a poetic, insightful and moving way. Both are must-reads for anyone with an interest in modern China.
Lauren Oyler, ‘Fake Accounts’ and Jia Tolentino, ‘Trick Mirror’
Now, I wouldn’t usually give a 3-star read more airtime than what it took to read and review. But Fake Accounts is hot off the press and has drawn plenty of praise, and just because it did dazzle me doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to say. It’s a fictional mediation, via our unnamed protagonist, on the lives we construct for ourselves online, the nature of selfhood and of performance and power, from a woman who’s just found out her boyfriend is secretly running a popular conspiracy theorist Instagram account. Jia Tolentino’s incredibly articulate essay collection Trick Mirror addresses many of these same themes – in one memorable chapter ‘Always Be Optimizing’, she explores the modern condition through the vehicle of a chopped salad – a chopped salad the embodiment of the way that our attention can be directed away from having to focus on the consumption of nutrients and instead to the consumption of data, of content, as we answer emails or scroll Facebook or buy things on Amazon. Compelling stuff, and both searing accounts of the modern condition.
Yaa Gyasi, ‘Homegoing’ and Ta Nehisi-Coates, ‘Between the World and Me’
I feel like I have waxed lyrical about both of these before, but for good reason. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a sweeping and devastating novel, transporting us from 18th century Ghana to just before the turn of the millennium in the United States. It charts the descendants of two sisters, one who is enslaved and brought to the U.S., the other who remains in Ghana. It’s an ambitious and moving examination of the ripple effects of history and racism. Between the World and Me (which should be required reading for the planet, as per the iconic Toni Morrison), is written as a letter Coates addresses to his son. He eloquently examines how the pernicious nature of systemic racism is woven into the fabric of American society. And while his experience as a Black man in America is different from his father’s, and different from his son’s, who has grown up under a Black president, there is a long, long way to go before Black lives in America are valued equally. If you loved Yaa Gyasi’s debut, make sure Ta Nehisi-Coates is next on your TBR.
Thanks for visiting! Are there any fiction/non-fiction pairings you would recommend?