“Reading Alex Kuo is best done twice.” — Robert Wallace
Published last year by Haven Books, if one chases the various reviews of this mathematical novel with doppelganger protagonists—some love it, some damn it!—it was laughingly mentioned to me by the man behind the math that a comment thread starts to emerge:
What does the math have to do with it?, or, I didn’t get the math.
Or, as I noticed, the reviewer tends to sidestep the math, in this case perhaps begging the question of what we each take away from a particular work.
If the interpretation that resonates for one reader tends to demote an aspect another equally careful reader thinks key, who is to finally say which reading is the most apt or relevant? And, either reader’s focus and/or opinion might alter on a second or fourth reading.
Kuo is so fun, because he’s one of those authors who dares his readers to work but then rewards with insightful, multicultural, social/political commentary and inherent writing lessons, and, in this case, math class. He can be extremely sensitive, vitriolic, or screamingly funny on the page. The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze may send you Googling to recollect your Chinese history and geography, and the math certainly isn’t soft on the typical English major, like me. I’ll admit, I find his writing initially daunting, but then I get jazzed up about it.
Loved the math, but I didn’t really get the story.
Gotta love it. It puts me somewhat in mind of Irish writer Jennifer Johnston’s novel Two Moons. A lover of Shakespeare might have strong opinions about the implications for the story, yet another might say, nifty story about three generations of women but I don’t get the point of the damn ghost.
First published in 1961, Alex Kuo is the author of ten books—five collections of poetry, including A Chinaman’s Chance (2011, Wordcraft of Oregon); two collections of stories, including Lipstick and Other Stories (2001, Asia 2000 Ltd.), which received the American Book Award; and three novels, including The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze (2011, Haven Books), the second in the Ge trilogy. Book eleven, The Other China, is due this fall from Blacksmith Books. (Anyone else feel like a slacker?) He has lived in the United States, Hong Kong, and China, spending most of World War II in the latter. (Author photo by Robert Hubner.)
In this Time Out Hong Kong interview by Steven Hsieh, Alex Kuo talks about writing The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze, including how the female lead character Ge was born of a photo he took while in Chengdu (he’s also a professional photographer).
xo Laurel Leigh