cover image Dear Chrysanthemums

Dear Chrysanthemums

Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Scribner, $18 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-66801-298-7

In Sze-Lorrain’s graceful debut collection, women negotiate the violence of pivotal events in Chinese history. “Death at the Wukang Mansion” takes place in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution, when an accomplished ballerina is banished to a mansion and watches the same coffin entering and leaving the building with a different body each day. In “Cooking for Madame Chiang,” a former servant of Madame Chiang Kai-shek works in the nationalist leader’s household in 1946. Sze-Lorrain picks up with the narrator years later, in “Green,” dealing with the suspicion for her role in “the old aristocratic society.” In “The Invisible Window,” set in 2016, three Chinese women meet in a Paris cathedral to reminisce about their involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, while the title story traces the rise and fall of a famous guzheng player during Mao Zedong’s reign. Sze-Lorrain effortlessly evokes the spirit of each setting, be it the ardent fervor of nationalism during the Chinese Civil War or the seedy glamor of a dive bar in Paris, and she imbues her characters with haunting melancholy as victims “doomed to the mishaps of verity and the equally hurtful edges of fiction.” This author is one to watch. (May)