Thursday, February 2, 2017

Janie Chang

Janie Chang draws upon family history for her novels. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War.

She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is also the founder and main organizer of Canadian Authors for Indies, a national day of support by authors for independent bookstores.

Born in Taiwan, Chang has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada.

Her first novel, Three Souls, was a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prizes Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and one of nine Canadian books long-listed for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, Dragon Springs Road, was released in January 2017.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Chang's reply:
For the past couple of years I’ve read mostly non-fiction about China: memoirs, journals, biographies, academic papers, and studies. Now that my second novel is released and there’s a lull of a couple of weeks, I’m making a small dent in the TBR stack on my bookshelf. It must a backlash against all that non-fiction and history because the books I was in the mood to read had nothing to do with history or China.

Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe. Full disclosure, Sam is a friend. But I only made friends with him after becoming a total fan-girl of his writing. Call the style Vancouver Noir. Like Wiebe’s debut, Last of the Independents, Invisible Dead is set in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada where there is (really is) a very high number of missing and murdered indigenous women whose cases remain unsolved. Through private investigator Dave Wakeland, we follow the 11-year old case of one Chelsea Loam. It’s a complex, clever story but what really gets me is how we learn about the missing Chelsea, bit by bit, her hopes and modest ambitions, her struggle to break away from a somehow inevitable fate. It’s heartbreaking and elevates this from crime novel to cry for justice.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Geek saves world. Or at least the virtual world of OASIS, where most of the world’s population prefers to spend their time because it’s more bearable than the resource-strapped real world. The richest man in the world, who created OASIS, dies and leaves a gaming quest: whoever completes the quest inherits his entire fortune and corporation. Our 18-year old hero devotes his waking hours to the solving the puzzle, which consists of clues set in the digital world of OASIS. Competitors range from solo gamers to ‘clans’ and more ominously, a corporation called IOI that plans to monetize OASIS more effectively should they win. Hard to put down and so bleak a vision of our potential future I almost didn’t realize that it had a happy ending.

Ten Windows. How Great Poems Transform The World by Jane Hirshfield. Essays about reading and understanding poetry. I’m an admirer of Hirshfield. "My Species" never fails to make me gasp with its simplicity, a few words that create images that convey so much. But it takes me a long time to read and digest poetry, so imagine how long it takes me to read and digest an essay about poetry. At least a week. And now I’ve mislaid the book. Or lent it out. Gaaah!

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee. Another Vancouver author. After her mother’s funeral, Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s home and belongings. In the basement chest freezers she finds the bodies of two Chinese girls. She realizes they are the foster children her mother took in nearly 30 years ago, sisters who suddenly vanished one day. Although the grisly discovery makes this novel sound like a mystery, it’s actually about everything else – race, family, the social welfare system, her own identity – as Jessica dredges through her memories to try and understand who her mother really was.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay. This would be a historical novel, except for GGK’s trademark fantasy twist of locating stories in countries that never existed. I find the best way to enjoy his books is by turning off the little historical research voice that keeps comparing fictional lands and characters to real ones. And then, get swept along by glorious storytelling and beautiful prose. Sigh of happiness.

Lucky Peach. 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach. Why yes, I count this as reading for pleasure. I love sitting up in bed and reading cookbooks. Especially the ones with full colour photos. There’s nothing like food porn.
Learn more about the book and author at Janie Chang's website.

The Page 69 Test: Three Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue