📖Edinburgh: 🍸flaxen

📖: Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh (2001)
🍸: flaxen

Why this book?

Edinburgh is HANDS DOWN one of the most beautiful works of prose that I’ve read. (Thank you, Alexander Chee, for gifting the world with your writing!!) This novel is a poignant and poetic coming-of-age story about a Korean-American boy named Fee, who joins a boys’ choir in Maine, where he meets and falls in love with his best friend, Peter. The choir is also where the director, Big Eric, sexually abuses several of the boys, including Peter, during an overnight summer camping trip. Much of the novel follows Fee into adulthood as he wrestles with his sexuality, faces shame and guilt for remaining a silent witness to Big Eric’s crimes, and grieves for the loss of Peter and his friends in the aftermath of their traumatic experience.

Much of the praise for this book cites how the simple, succinct language gives the story emotional depth and power — that what is not written expresses just as much as what Chee has put on the page. And I completely agree. There are many passages where I wanted to slow down, reread, and savor because the imagery was so vivid and lush.

For example, as the memory of Peter (and his death by burning) haunts Fee throughout his life, Fee’s narration becomes steeped with reoccurring images of fire and light — along with colors associated with flames: blue, red, and yellow. The novel also weaves in references to Western literature and Korean mythology, in which Fee seeks refuge, knowledge, and healing. This juxtaposition of Western and Korean influences is a nod to another layer of tension in the novel: not only does Fee grapple with his queer identity, but he also struggles to reconcile his bi-racial background as he grows up.

I finished the novel wanting to experience more of Chee’s writing. Since this novel is based on some of the author’s experiences, I am very much looking forward to reading Chee’s essays in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel to complement my reading of Edinburgh.

Why this drink?

The most tender moments in the novel are when Fee remembers Peter, often fixating on Peter’s white-blond, “candle-flame” hair — how this feature gave Peter a kind of emanating light that would draw you in. Of Peter, Fee recounts: “He walks and I feel the air come off him toward me, wherever we are…My mother calls him a towhead, the word, apparently, for that kind of hair, so pale, so bright, it seems to be what sunshine reminds you of. What do you want of him, I ask myself. I tell myself, to walk inside him and never leave. For him to be the house of me.”

And so, this yellow-hued cocktail is an ode to Fee’s love for Peter, the boy with the flaxen hair.

(This pairing uses Danny Shapiro’s Weathered Axe cocktail recipe from Punch with a few slight substitutions based on what I have available in quarantine.)


1.5 oz bourbon
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz Suze or an Americano wine
1/2 oz ginger syrup*

*for garnish: rosemary and lemon twist

  1. combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well
  2. serve in a chilled glass with ice
  3. garnish with a rosemary and a lemon twist

*how to make ginger syrup: Pour sugar and water into a pan (using a 1:1 sugar-to-water ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar with freshly grated ginger. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool. Strain out the ginger after liquid cools.

quarantine substitutes:
Bourbon: the original recipe calls for a 100-proof bourbon. I did not use a 100-proof bourbon, but it still tasted great. Use any whiskey of your choice.
Triple sec: the original recipe calls for a Combier, a brand of triple sec, so you can replace it with whichever triple sec you prefer — it doesn’t need to be an expensive brand (though Cointreau is a great choice)! I once omitted the triple sec by accident when mixing for friends, and it still tasted delicious (phew!).
Suze: I recently used Suze because I didn’t have Cocchi Americano available (what the original recipe called for), and because Suze’s bitter gentian flavor kind of mimics a substitution I’ve used in the past. In fact, I’ve never used Cocchi in this drink before. Instead, I’ve only used Short Path’s Americano Blanc, which is a cross between a vermouth and amaro, with white wine notes mixed with a gentian root flavor. In short, I think you can experiment with this ingredient – go for something a little bitter, dry, and white wine-like…maybe a dry white vermouth will do?!
No fresh ginger? You can try using ground ginger instead.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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