“But to this day, I suspect I planted the seeds of my own suffering without any notion of consequence.” -Esme Weijun Wang, The Border of Paradise
Because, honestly, there wasn’t much I could say other than “woah” for that first bit after putting it down.
The woman can write, that is certain. Images in this book are beautiful, often enough to make you gasp. She takes the visual right to its sharp edge and then pushes it just a little bit further. It’s breathtaking.
Now, this is not to say this is all an easy and joyful response. There are taboos and then there are TABOOS. And Esmé isn’t afraid of any of them. This is the sort of book that will tell you where your line is. If you like to be pushed a bit and to learn a little more about who you are and what you believe, this is the book for you.
But there are other ways than just how we deal with the unexpected and shocking that make this an important book. Yes she chooses the unconventional, yes she puts her characters through a lot more than most writers would dare to. (And I am saying this having recently read A Little Life, so you know this must be intense)
This is really a book about what it means to be human under circumstances we can’t control. Whether this is because of our family, our culture, our health- mental and physical, or just the things that life has thrown at us, more people in this world than not get very little say. And as we watch the people in this book cope with their lives and hopes and disappointments, we are seeing a dramatized narrative of our inner fears and failings and how people try to keep things together as best they can.
I wouldn’t wish these lives on anyone, but I know I am a better person for having read about them. I can still see rooms from this book in my head, and I still wonder where the characters are, out wandering around in the collective literary unconscious.
Thank you, Esmé, for putting The Border of Paradise out in the world. You have made me think in ways I rarely have to, and I am grateful for that challenge.
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