In Elisa Shua Dusapin’s novel Winter in Sokcho, a young woman has a fateful encounter with a man who is as lost as she is.
Sokcho, a Korean beach resort, has little to offer tourists during the off season. But one tourist comes: Kerrand, a French comic book artist in search of inspiration. He becomes a source of reluctant fascination for the narrator, a new employee at the isolated guest house where Kerrand is staying. Each of them seeks something undefinable from the other, even as it becomes apparent that they will not find it.
The narrator is not close to her mother or her boyfriend, and she knows nothing of her father, save that he is French. Perhaps that is what draws her to Kerrand: he embodies something she lacks. Or perhaps it is his drawings, always so stark and always destroyed by morning, that attract her, even as his behavior repels her.
The narrator’s languor is heightened by the fact that Sokcho, in her view, is a dead end. Yet Sokcho has beauty that she cannot see: colorful buildings, mountain vistas, beaches, even the fleet of fishing vessels that light up the dark sea. Nor does she see her own beauty: those around her suggest that she get plastic surgery, and she struggles with disordered eating, even as she tries to persuade the dismissive Kerrand to try her cooking.
In Sokcho, everyone is in a holding pattern. The country waits for the war with the North to reignite. The town waits for warm weather and the tourist season. Kerrand waits for just the right spark of inspiration. And the narrator waits for she knows not what: perfection, happiness, freedom…or maybe just simple acknowledgement.
Winter in Sokcho is a spare novel about existence in the between spaces of identity and passion.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (April 9, 2021)
In Elly Bangs’s science fiction novel Unity, two people, haunted by their past deeds, outrun an apocalypse to find new purpose.
Danae was already planning her escape from Bloom City, an underwater aquapolis, when the war started. She just barely makes it to the surface with the help of Alexei, a suicidal mercenary who can no longer stomach the thought of killing. As they make their way through what was once the Western United States, both Danae and Alexei confront everyone they have been, and everything they have done, before they end their lives—and are reborn.
Set in the 22nd century, Unity’s immersive world has been ravaged—but not destroyed—by nuclear war, environmental decay, gang wars, and intrusive technology. Land-based countries have collapsed into wastelands where a few meager souls scrounge out a living, and underwater empires bring the entire globe to the brink of destruction again and again.
It is through this unforgiving world that Danae treks in search of her other selves, the people with whom she fused her consciousness in a revolutionary but costly process. Though she longs to rejoin them, she fears her sins are unforgivable. Alexei, bereft of purpose and filled with self-loathing, seeks only to fulfill his obligation to Danae before ending his life. They both keep their pasts to themselves until disaster strikes, sending all of their secrets tumbling out. In trying to save humanity, Danae has lost touch with it, while Alexei was never given the chance to be fully human. They cannot change what they were, but they control who they will become. It isn’t much, but it might just be enough to live for.
Unity is a dystopian science fiction novel about what it means to be human, and what it takes to retain and reclaim one’s humanity.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (February 27, 2021)
A blue bear named Wallow always gets gloomy when it rains, preferring to stay in bed, but a visit from his friend Little Cub has him donning his yellow raincoat and learning to find the silver lining of storm clouds. Mixed-media illustrations contrast the warmth of Wallow’s cave with the dreary gray of the outdoors, while the rounded edges of the illustrations evoke a soft, organic feeling in this picture book about positive thinking.
DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (February 27, 2021)
“Someone said that interior design is autobiography. For me, it’s nostalgia,” Max Humphrey notes in the opening to Modern Americana, a photographic tour through properties that the Portland, Oregon, designer has designed.
These are homey scenes with clean lines, fluffy textures, period pieces, and folksy touches. The book emphasizes a do-it-yourself approach: salvage wood and other fittings. Paint your own furniture—“the chippier the better.” Gather baskets, cans, stoneware, old flags, or quilts for a custom-made display. “Three of anything is a collection,” after all.
Inspiration comes from across the USA: a saloon counter and bandana prints recall the Wild West, sugar sack pillow cases and old maps summon the rural South, and rocking chairs and barn doors evoke Shaker New England. One can even “bring the outdoors in” via floral prints and vintage antlers mounted on foam deer heads.
The book’s Instagram-ready images are its true star; a narrative is fashioned in the way that they move from materials to placement to in situ enjoyment. Cozy and quirky, these interiors bring to mind a relaxed, colorful Magnolia by way of Wes Anderson. Don your flannel and denim and curl up on a window seat to soak up the pages’ rustic charm.
REBECCA FOSTER (February 27, 2021)
Personal Stories & Beloved Recipes from Alaska
Mother–daughter pair Kirsten and Mandy Dixon manages a set of family businesses in Alaska, including two lodges, a café, and a cooking school. Their cookbook, Living Within the Wild, collects rustic yet elegant recipes that serve as “snapshots in time and place,” highlighting local ingredients and the melting pot of cultures.
When the Dixon family first moved to Alaska in 1983, it was with the determination “to seek a life lived close to nature.” They started a river rafting company and added on other ventures. Mandy went to culinary school, returning after to help in the lodge kitchens. Their menus range from hearty feasts to simple meals that can be cooked while camping. Wherever possible, the Dixons use homegrown foods or ones they have foraged and caught.
This humble, organic book takes a stand against single-use plastics and food waste. A “stalks and stems sauce” for pasta is one of its recommendations for using up leftovers. The women are also committed to upholding local food culture. In Alaska: seafood is abundant, and salmon is a star ingredient. Various contributing ethnicities are evident in the book: lentil “caviar” served on blini evokes Russia, Yuzu dumplings and sushi sandwiches reflect Asian influences, and there are Scandinavian and Native American traces in the red currant tart, and the black bean and reindeer sausage chili.
The section introductions include information on the daily running of the lodges, while short preambles discuss the recipes’ inspiration, or give tips and serving suggestions. Vegetarian fare is in somewhat short supply, although there are appealing side dishes like a potato and smoked cherry salad. The outside comes inside through desserts infused with spruce sugar, or topped with crystallized cranberries that look frost-kissed. The food and landscape photographs are superb.
The beauty of Alaska and its tempting culinary offerings come through equally in Living Within the Wild.
REBECCA FOSTER (April 9, 2021)