Just finished Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen, and before that was Circe by Madeline Miller. I enjoyed both, although particularly with Bury What We Cannot Take maybe enjoyed is the wrong word….

Circe tells the story of Circe, a rather minor character in The Odyssey if I’m recalling my junior high reading assignments correctly… I’ve heard some criticism that this book required a little too much knowledge of Greek mythology, but I’m no expert and I still found it to be a fast and compelling read. Circe is a goddess, a child of a Titan (Helios a sun god) and an Oceanid nymph, and she’s little loved or appreciated in her family because she’s not as beautiful or as beautiful sounding as they are (she has a human voice).

The novel begins with Circe’s unhappy childhood, and follows her through the centuries — about halfway through she meets Odysseus. I found her incredibly compelling, despite being a goddess, she’s sort of the post of the #metoo era, a woman who is willing to call the men in power (or not in power) who have harmed her to account. Many powerfully sad things happen to her, and there was a bit of a sense of doom for me for much of the book, but the end is pretty happy.

Bury What We Cannot Take also has a somewhat happy ending, although the book itself looking back, is basically about the worst few weeks in a family’s life. I thought this novel would be more about, the years and decades of a family after escaping communist China, but it was really about that very initial period of their escape. The main characters of the story are nine-year-old San San and her older brother Ah Liam. As the story opens, they are well-to-do children with a father who is stuck abroad working in Hong Kong because the borders of China have been closed.  The two are both young enough to be completely taken in by the communist party’s message and in fact the wheels of the plot are set in motion by Ah Liam turning their grandmother in as a counter-revolutionary after witnessing her smash a picture of Chairman Mao.

I don’t know that the Chinese government would like this book, and it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the communist party — several minor characters are killed by the party for trying to leave China. At the beginning of the book, after Ah Liam has turned his grandmother in, grandmother and mother are able to get exit visas for three members of the family — but not all four. As a result, most of the book switches back and forth between Ah Liam and their mother in Hong Kong and San San, still stuck in China. San San’s resourcefulness, her sheer capability was what made me enjoy this book. It’s terrible, because you see her realize that her family lied to her about why they were leaving and you see her decide that the only person she can trust and rely on is herself. But, she’s pretty good at taking care of herself it turns out, and I found her adventures much more interesting than Ah Liam’s struggles with his communist education and the beliefs of the rest of his family.

Bury What We Cannot Take is another book from the amazing list 46 Books By Women of Color To Read in 2018 – if you’re looking for what to read next, start here.

Currently reading: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh and still working through So You Want to Talk About Race