Our Friend is Here!is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
The minute I heard about Clarissa Goenawan’s Rainbirds, it went on my TBR as one of my most anticipated books of 2018. The relationship between mental health, mystery, and a quiet slice of life intrigued me immediately. Rainbirds and her next release, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, exist within the same community of people, and give a sense of closeness, but also vastness, considering the tone and subject matter. While reading both, I loved the feeling of intimacy gazing upon these characters’ lives, but also the broad philosophical questions woven into the story.
Holed up with other mothers-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory and fell in love with the married owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. To ensure that his child—his first son—has every advantage, Boss Yeung has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited, pregnant teenager who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.
Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she goes on the run by hijacking a van—only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. The two flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her.
As a new mother and a first-generation Chinese immigrant living in the United States, I knew A River of Stars would strike a chord, but I could not have prepared myself for how deeply. I met Scarlett and Daisy, our two main characters, when they were pregnant. They suddenly go on the lam, desperately trying to piece together a full life for themselves and their babies. As they both have very little to no family in the USA, they create a found family, and I am honored to have witnessed it as a reader.
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
I had heard so much about Exit West; heard about how brilliant it was, how thoughtful, and how deep, and I have to say — I absolutely agree with all its praises. It follows Nadia and Saeed, two characters who live in an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (though the author has alluded that the city is based on his home in Pakistan), and how they escape the violence and instability of their country by escaping through a mysterious door that has appeared across the world. Transported to a new place, Nadia and Saeed grapple with losing their home and trying to make a new one. And thus, Hamid has elegantly written a profound and moving story about emigration, the refugee experience, and the relationships we have with others.