Author: Clifford Garstang
Published: October 2012
Publisher: Press 53
Source: A complimentary copy was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher which in no way influenced my opinion nor my review of this book. All opinions expressed here are my own.
What the Zhang Boys Know on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/What-Zhang-Boys-Clifford-Garstang/dp/1935708619
The author's website: cliffordgarstang.com
The publisher's website: http://www.press53.com/BioCliffordGarstang.html
Set in a condominium building on the edge of Chinatown in Washington, D.C., these stories present the practical and emotional struggles of Zhang Feng-qi, originally from Shanghai, to find a new mother for his sons following the death of his American wife. Along the way, the stories spotlight Zhang’s neighbors as they seek to fill gaps in their own lives: the young bookseller diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; the young lawyer trying to cope with a failed marriage; the obsessive painter haunted by the image of a face; the middle-aged woman forced to sell her possessions in order to survive; the sculptor, overwhelmed by longing for the son he didn’t know he had. And then there are the Zhang boys, who firmly believe that their mother is coming back. What is it that they know?
Each chapter comprising What the Zhang Boys Know belongs to a different resident in a condo complex, which is a unique method of story-telling. The characters' lives intertwine to an extent, making the sum of the short stories into a short novel. All the residents are neighbours of Zhang Feng-qi, a recent widower raising two young sons and in search of a mother for his children. As the individuals' stories reveal their lives, trials and loves; we learn that the young Zhang boys know a lot more than one could imagine. Are they, perhaps, the thread that unites the residents of the condominium? What are the secrets they have been entrusted with and are they good at keeping them? The reveal comes piece by piece, little by little with What the Zhang Boys Know.
I like the unique approach in connecting the characters, making a community from the people. In the short time given to allow the reader to get to know the residents, it is rather easy to empathize with some. I consider this a feat of talent! Clifford Garstang writes in an easy, fluid manner though I found some of the subject matter not to my personal reading tastes. Overall, it's much like a soap opera mini-series which is carried off very well by Mr. Garstang. The ending surprised me and I found myself adding to the story to resolve the story to my liking. I like things tied up in a perfect little bow. Perhaps that is what he intended from the reader after all? Let's just say it is.
Clifford Garstang is the author of What the Zhang Boys Know (Press 53, 2012) and the prize-winning linked story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009). His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines including Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Cream City Review, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte and is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine. He is also the author of the popular literary blog Perpetual Folly.
After receiving a BA in Philosophy from Northwestern University, Garstang served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, where he taught English at Jonbuk University. He then earned an MA in English and a JD, magna cum laude, both from Indiana University, and practiced international law in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Singapore with one of the largest law firms in the United States. Subsequently, he earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and worked for Harvard Law School as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 1996 to 2001, he was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., where his work focused on China, Vietnam, Korea, and Indonesia.
Garstang teaches creative writing at Writers.com and elsewhere. He currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
For more information on Cliff and his work, visit his website: cliffordgarstang.com.