All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler, is a powerful collection of short stories of Vietnamese immigrants, living post-War lives. Butler focuses on those who relocated in Louisiana, with its temperatures akin to the climate in their home country. Fifteen stories, including the story for which the book is named, stand alone but share the common thread of building a new life in a new world.

Themes that pervade the stories include a sense of not belonging—either to the old world or the new—or struggling to transition between them. In “Fairy Tale,” a Vietnamese prostitute comes to America with a dream to be a housewife. In “Crickets” a Vietnamese father wants to share the simple games he played in Vietnam with his Americanized son. In “Relic,” a Vietnamese man seeks to regain his fortune in America and buys a shoe he was told once belonged to John Lennon. The stories weave beliefs like honoring elders, and practices like arranged marriages, with beautiful imagery. In one passage about family, an elderly character says, “A Vietnamese family is extended as far as the bloodline strings us together, like so many paper lanterns around a village square.”

The war figures heavily in some stories, its nightmares and ghosts living on in “Open Arms,” “Love,” and “A Ghost Story.” “The American Couple” features participants in television game shows who win trips to a resort in Mexico. The Vietnamese-born man, Vinh, and an American-born man, Frank, act out war games during their short time together on the set of the iconic movie, “The Night of the Iguana.” The emotional scars from the War, the transplantation of these Vietnamese immigrants, and their adaptation to a new culture, make Butler’s stories intense, convoluted, and moving.

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize. The hardcover edition of the book was first published in 1992 by Henry Holt.

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