For readers to whom Don Lee (Lonesome Lies Before Us) is a new author, The Partition is the perfect place to start. Lee, the author of four novels and a collection of short stories, transports readers around the world in this short story collection, which shines a light into the nooks and crannies of contemporary life and Asian American experiences.
Not only are these nine stories illuminating, but they are told in fine prose, clear and full of precise details, such as the intricacies of Baltimore or the after-party of a low-budget film premiere. They examine numerous contentious individual lives and social scenes with clarity and a light touch, never straying into the realm of treatise. It is a rare kind of fiction-writing that can address hot-button contemporary issues with elegance and authority, stories that reveal and challenge conventional assumptions without simplification or feeble provocation. At the heart of every story is a compelling human life. In "UFOs," a young local newscaster struggles to achieve career success and self-respect. The striving academic in "The Partition" seeks to regain her tenure-track status even as racism, sexism and a backfiring professional gamble seem to deny it at the last minute. And in "Commis," a young woman returns home to help her parents close their family restaurant, destroyed by Covid-19. Lee's stories depict people oscillating between alienation and social connection with plenty of human gyrations along the way.
All characters in The Partition are breathing, sweating, suffering and mistake-making people who, like everyone, are doing the best they can with what they have. --Walker Minot, teacher, freelance writer and reviewer