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September 2018

Book Review: A DOUBLE LIFE by Flynn Berry

Claire is a young London doctor, living a solitary life that consists of work and little else. Then a detective inspector comes to her door and says simply, “There’s been a sighting.”

Claire doesn’t need to ask of whom or what; she knows the DI is referring to her father, who is wanted for an almost 30-year-old murder and has been missing since.

While she braces herself for confirmation that the man in Namibia is her father, A Double Life moves back and forth in time to show what happened the night of the killing. The story also reveals that Claire can no longer accept waiting for the answers she feels her father owes her, and that she’s willing to cross dangerous lines to finally get them from him.

Flynn Berry’s follow-up to her Edgar-winning Under the Harrow is less a thriller than an examination of the psychological toll of violence on a family, specifically children. Claire doesn’t date and has changed her name—from Lydia—to avoid being linked to her father, and her younger brother fights addiction. Even though he was only a baby when the murder happened, it occurred in their family home and who knows what he absorbed? “Robbie looks like our father. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why he mistreats himself. It’s the only act of revenge he can take.”

Readers looking for plot-heavy stories might find Life slow going in parts, but Berry’s nuanced prose and complex characters leave a mark with their quiet suffering.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

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All Asians All the Time

This past holiday weekend turned out really Asian for me.

First I saw writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching, starring John Cho, and thought it was a riveting, innovative thriller. In case you don’t know the concept, the entire movie is viewed via the different screens in our lives—phone, computer, surveillance cameras, TV, etc. It highlights how we think we’re so connected and have so much information about people but we really don’t.

Sony Pictures

David Kim (Cho) is looking for his missing teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), and searches for clues in her laptop and social media accounts.

I like how there’s nothing particularly Asian about the movie. It’s a thriller that happens to have an Asian-American family at its center, speaking perfect English and doing everyday, even boring things (David’s job). Well, until the daughter goes missing. But Dad still doesn’t break out any martial arts or have any particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson. He’s just a regular dad. Who looks like John Cho.

Next I binged the first season of Ronny Chieng: International Student on Comedy Central and laughed hard. Got a big kick from Elvin (Hoa Xuande), the Vietnamese student who’s the most hilarious character, and how Asians are portrayed as smart, funny, *and* good in sports. Whaaaat? Mind blown. Chieng also gets laughs in breezy fun Crazy Rich Asians, which killed at the box office for the third weekend in a row. Have you seen it yet?

CBC

On a roll, I checked out Kim’s Convenience on Netflix and ended up also whipping through its first season. This show about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a store is sweet and laugh-out-loud funny.

The show’s humor is topical, mainstream, and specifically Asian, all at the same time. Every actor shines, even the customers in the store who have only short exchanges with the Kims. Can’t wait to continue with season 2.

I can’t recall the last time I’d had so much quality entertainment available to me that featured central characters of Asian descent. These people have agency, are masters of their own lives, are sexy, funny, flawed, not second bananas, or targets of racist remarks or butts of jokes.

As I wrapped up my binge-athon, I had a realization. I’d spent the whole time bracing for the Asian characters to experience some kind of bullying or microaggression. Hours later, when that hadn’t happened, I became aware I could finally exhale.

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