Review: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang

07 Nov

What the Zhang Boys KnowWhat the Zhang Boys know was an uneven collection of short stories, with a very definite voice that bound them even tighter than the shared location.

Summary via the author’s website:

What the Zhang Boys Know, a novel in stories: Set in a condominium building on the edge of Chinatown in Washington, D.C., these stories present the struggle 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. Among them: the young bookseller whose illness renders her barren; 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?

The stories I enjoyed most were the ones that directly involved the Zhang Boys. I found that the author’s style worked very well for me with these, and I was able to identify with the characters fast enough to be invested, even in the small space of an individual story.

I wish that the story “What the Zhang Boys Know about Life on the Planet Earth” had ended the book. I loved how the summary of all the things the Zhang boys knew tied into the other stories that preceded it, but giving events a very different view when seen by two small boys.

The story that did end the book did a better job of wrapping up the life of the Zhangs, but didn’t tie up the entire book in the same way. What I liked best about the book as a whole was the way the the stories interwove.

Unfortunately, when it came to the stories that weren’t about the Zhang boys, I didn’t connect with the characters, and I didn’t think the distinctive voice added to the stories. These generally looked at the characters at low point in their lives, when they were in the midst of making bad decisions, and it was difficult to care in the time I spent with each one. The couple with a relationship with hints of 50 Shades of Gray, the gay couple with a missing dog, that couldn’t connect with each other, the novelist and the sculptor that got to know their neighbors very well… I just didn’t relate.

I also didn’t get a sense of the Chinatown setting for the building. The building itself had such promise (why did it have a gallery of artwork, anyway?), but I never had a sense of it either. The book was a collection of portraits of the characters, with a blurred background behind them, just enough detail to cause me to wonder.

It is possible that I’m missing some of the point of this– I often have trouble with Literary Writing by male authors.

The plots are interesting, and might work better for someone else. Certainly, I’m happy I got to know the Zhang Boys and their immediate family, and perhaps you’ll see more reward in the others as well.

I reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book tour. Thank you to TLC for letting me participate.  For other points of view, check out the other stops:
TLC Book Tours


Posted by on November 7, 2012 in books, reviews, tour


Tags: , , , ,

3 responses to “Review: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang

  1. Heather J. @ TLC

    November 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed getting to know the Zhang boys! Thanks for being on the tour.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: