Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ken Liu's The Literomancer

Normally, I'd include this in one of my What Are You Reading Between the Covers? posts, but this is a review of one short story, not a collection.

Ken Liu is someone I have been chatting with online. We met on the critique forum, Critters, which many of you might have read about in my past blog entries. Ken was accepted by Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, which if you are a fan of or write in these genres, you know is a big accomplishment to make it into the professional pages. It's a writer's dream. I'm still working on mine, so right now I can vicariously live a little through Ken's success.

The Literomancer is a delightful tale, an artful blending of Mr. Liu's American and Chinese heritage. This is a common theme in his work, from what I have read so far. In The Literomancer, An American girl, Lilly, whose dad is working for the American government in China during the Cold War, befriends a little Chinese boy, Teddy, who dreams of playing for the Red Sox in the World Series. He lives with his grandfather, Mr. Kan, who is a literomancer or one who reads the fortunes in Chinese characters (writing). The story follows their budding friendship between cultures.

What struck me was the poignant message, Mr. Kan gave to Lilly, "Wildflowers can bloom anywhere." I believe this is true. Perhaps, some day, the people of China will have the freedom they want, but more importantly, perhaps, each of us can look into our hearts and realize that a people and a land are not defined by arbitrary borders on a map, but by their hearts and spirits. A person's spirit is enduring. Thank you, for that message, Ken!

I have to add, do not read this story on an empty stomach if you like ethnic cuisine. Food was also a central theme defining cultures in the story, and I suffered a bout of culinary envy at a few points in the tale. I looked up a few recipes to share with my readers. (Please forgive me Ken, if I post a recipe not completely traditional. I am not familiar with all the foods you wrote about, but am curious). Here are a few links for the chefs and the adventurous eaters:

Kòng-uân pork balls: described here as a sweet and sour pork ball, served with rice.
Three-Cup Chicken: This I am looking forward to trying! The name comes from the three ingredients used in the recipe; sesame oil, Chinese rice wine, and soy sauce. (I suppose you could substitute tofu for chicken, but I won't promise it will be the same).
Shangtung Milkfish Soup: I couldn't find an exact recipe for this, but did find a milkfish soup, which is a traditional Chinese soup made from bangus (milkfish).
If you're hungry or love to cook, one of these should suffice. I think of the three, I would try the Three-Cup Chicken, since I do not eat much pork and was vegetarain for over a decade. I Googled and it also appears that milkfish are not an endangered species, which is good, if you have a food conscience like me.
Enjoy!
For more information on the history of the American involvement during the Cold War in China, Mr. Liu thoughtfully suggested John W. Garver's The Sino-American Alliance: Nationalist China and American Cold War Strategy in Asia.
You can also find information on the tradition of literomancy here:
And as always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

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