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What we’re reading pt. 19

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

I read Susan Faludi’s searing memoir In the Darkroom over the summer break, and it was one of those books that sparked the evangelist in me — I pressed it on anybody who would listen, and reread and bookmarked passages that I wanted to savour or share.

Broadly, In the Darkroom is an extraordinary investigation into the life of Faludi’s father Stefánie, who Faludi reconnects with after a long period of estrangement. During this period, Stefánie has undergone gender confirmation surgery. Faludi travels to Budapest, the current and childhood home of her father, where Stefánie reluctantly leads her through the recesses of her previous lives.

As much as the memoir is about their relationship, it’s also an incredible and sweeping meditation on identity — political, sexual and religious — and delves into the dark politics of war-time and modern-day Hungary, where antisemitism is rife and trans, gay and gender rights are under constant attack.

Good for: A book that reads like a detective story. Faludi writes in a way that’s smart, sensitive and utterly compelling.

– Tam Zimet, Program Coordinator


The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

One of my yardsticks for judging a piece of writing is by how quickly it moves me tears — Ken Liu’s short story ‘The Paper Menagerie’ manages it in a mere 15 pages. This evocative story was the winner of the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the World Fantasy Award the year it was released, and rightly so: it’s both concisely written and achingly expansive in its emotional range. Thematically, it traverses race and privilege and familial love; it’s also about origami that is inexplicably brought to life by breath.

Liu’s startlingly original collection of short stories are perhaps best described as speculative fiction: some draw on classic sci-fi ideas like alien life and interstellar travel, some explore the nature of humanity by posing intriguing ‘what ifs’, and others draw on the mythology of China and Japan to create postmodern fairytales. In ‘State Change’, a girl is born with an ice cube for a soul, and must spend her life keeping it from melting. In ‘Mono no aware’, the last surviving members of the human race face an impossible choice while adrift in space. And in ‘Good Hunting’, a Chinese demon hunter forges a friendship with a hulijing or fox demon he’s meant to kill — and then the Industrial Age hits and things get really weird.

Good for: An escapist trip into other worlds that retains a very human heart.

– Nadia Bailey, Digital Marketing Coordinator