Friday, July 22, 2016

Shawna Yang Ryan

Shawna Yang Ryan is a former Fulbright scholar and the author of Water Ghosts and Green Island. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Her short fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, Kartika Review, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. She is the 2015 recipient of the Elliot Cades Emerging Writer award.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Ryan's reply:
I just finished Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, an Indonesian novel beautifully translated by Annie Tucker.

The prostitute Dewi Ayu, who has been dead for twenty-one years, rises from her grave and discovers that her horrifically ugly youngest daughter, Beauty, is pregnant by what appears to be a ghost. From there, the reader is pulled along on an adventure that stretches back to Dutch colonialism, through the experience of forced sex workers during World War II, to independence and coups and massacres. Akin to One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book introduces a huge cast of characters and becomes a history of all their lives and of their town, Halimunda. Four hundred and sixty pages later, Kurniawan has finally given us enough context to understand who impregnated Beauty. In the meantime, the story moves back and forth and sideways in time in a way I rarely see in contemporary novels.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones at the same time. I began with the very first episode and have (confession!) covered nearly the entire series in the last three weeks. I’ve been struck by the violence in both this book and that show. Both are somewhat blithe about all manner of depravity, so I’ve been considering that age-old debate about whether there is a gender difference in writing. I don’t mean some inherent biological difference, but a socially created one. Would a woman so casually have her female characters raped, with little to no consequences for the men? In both, some of the women come to love their rapists and it’s seen as a beautiful thing, as a kind of taming of the woman. Could only a male write that kind of story? Encountering these two works at the same time has been thought-provoking for me. I have many questions, but no answers yet.
Visitt Shawna Yang Ryan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Water Ghosts.

The Page 69 Test: Green Island.

--Marshal Zeringue