One of the milder of Tyler’s novels, centered around a set of character studies. Iranian immigrant Maryam realizes that she’s defined herself as an outsider — and yet somehow, in spite of herself, she becomes part of an unlikely pairing of families, and comes to care about the very type of Americans that she thinks she’ll never understand. For writers: Less is more here, but it works. The problems have an everyday quality, but the people are brought to life with such particularity in how they act and what they say, that we can’t help becoming invested in them. Like Maryam, we end up caring about these characters, in a deft application of “show, don’t tell.”
Written as if it were a memoir, this novel about a girl sold out of her home to be trained as a geisha is well crafted, imaginative, full of tension, and by turns funny and sad to the point of tears. For writers: The first person voice rings true throughout, with even the metaphors confined to the exotic but narrow world of this girl. The attention to historical detail is remarkable. But what impressed me most was how, even with extended interiority, this author made me want to keep turning the page. The tension is increased by how deep we go, as her personal stakes become ours.