First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarified circles of 1920s American society – she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.
But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut-paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
Nghi Vo’s debut novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.
Happy Friday everyone! Another work week has come to an end and the weekend is just over the horizon. I hope you all had a great week despite these challenging and uncertain times. In times like this, we resort to our own escapes. For me (and perhaps most of us), it was books and reading that has been our comfort zones. It was one of the things that has kept me sane. I fervently hope and pray that this pandemic ends soon. And yes, I just had my first dose of the vaccine and I am glad to report that I haven’t turned into a zombie. I am glad that the Philippines that is stepping up its vaccination drive.
But before I can finally transition to the weekend, let me close the work week with another First Impression Friday. It has become some kind of a tradition. My current read is one of the books I have listed as 2021 Books I Look Forward To. Earlier this year, while researching for books to include in the said list, Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful’s cover immediately captured my attention. Whilst it was one of my primary considerations in adding the book to my list, the book’s premise also captured my interest. The primary character is Asian and, as the synopsis markets the book, a magician and queer. Moreover, the story is set in the Jazz Age.
In literature, when one mentions the Jazz Age, the first novel that it is immediately associated with is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The glitzy movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio also leaves a deep impression. When I started reading The Chose and the Beautiful, I didn’t expect to find myself in the company of Daisy Buchanan and her domineering husband, Tom. And then enters Nick Carraway, the primary voice of the original Fitzgerald narrative. That’s when it all started to sink in. Vo’s narrator was Jordan Baker and I was aghast to have missed the connection! The Chose and the Beautiful was also almost a play on Fitzgerald’s other novel, The Damned and the Beautiful.
Honestly, learning that the novel was an attempt to retell the popular literary classic somehow dampened my mood a little bit. Nevertheless, I pushed through but I kept finding myself in familiar places, names and faces. As I moved forward, I felt like was reading the movie but only through Jordan’s perspective. Vo did insert her own unique elements, the biggest of which was Jordan’s backstory. In Vo’s version, Jordan was Asian and was from Tonkin, eventually adopted by Eliza Baker after seeing her being abandoned as a baby. Vo also added some elements of magic to compliment Jordan’s story.
What was lamentable, however, was the lack of exploration of Jordan’s heritage and provenance. Yes, we learn that she was from Tonkin but there were very little traces of it in her. Vo tried to make a connection later in the novel but it felt disjointed, almost an afterthought, reminding the readers that Jordan was Asian and was a magician. The magical elements were also underwhelming, lost in the glitz and glamour of the original narrative. This First Impression Friday is somehow turning out to be a mini-review (HAHA). I can’t help it for I am nearly done with the novel; I have just passed the confrontation between Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby. I don’t have to hazard a guess on what happens next for most of us already know it.
On a positive note, I did like Vo’s writing. It was lyrical and descriptive. She managed to give a more prominent voice to an original character who was mostly passive and forgettable in the original story. Vo gave Jordan more than just a story but she gave her more character and personality. I was never bored even though I already have an iota on how the story will develop. With less than 50 pages left, I am sure I can finish the book later today. How about you fellow reader? What book are you bringing into the weekend? I hope you enjoy it! Happy reading and have a happy weekend!