Jane Kuo: In the Beautiful Country (Quill Tree Books 2022)
When Ai Shi was born, her father also gave her an American name: Anna. This is how he expressed his longing for the beautiful country – America’s name is the beautiful country in Chinese. Ai Shi is now 11 years old and counting the days until she and her mother can travel to the United States from Taiwan to her father who arrived earlier. She will miss her relatives and friends, but she is also looking forward to the big adventure. According to their family, they are the lucky ones. However, when they arrive in Los Angeles, they face several difficulties. They have a single-room rental apartment instead of their big old house and run a restaurant with little success. In addition, Ai Shi is not welcomed by the students at school either: they make fun of her because of her appearance, her clothes and the food she eats. The situation seems hopeless, but it turns out that there is a way out of this situation with perseverance, kindness and forgiveness.
It was very interesting to see how Ai Shi processes the changes and difficulties. We see the events from her point of view. What was most interesting to me was when she thinks about how similar she and her cousin Mei were to each other: their lives travel as in parallel lines in the same direction. But with Ai Shi moving, that all changes. The lines are moving away from each other. Years from now, when Ai Shi looks back at Mei, will she see what her life would be like if they hadn’t moved?
The book describes the story in a lyrical, verse form. I’ve only just started getting to know contemporary novels, but this book will definitely be one of my favorites.
Jane Kuo is a Chinese and Taiwanese American writer who, like her protagonist, grew up in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Her debut novel, In the Beautiful Country, was inspired by the weekends and summer vacations she spent working at her parents’ restaurant.