📖Klara and the Sun: 🍸klara’s sunset

📖: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2021)
🍸: klara’s sunset

Why this book?

This is the kind of book raises more questions than answers about humanity, spirituality, social equity, illness, and mortality. What kind of world do we create with the technological capacity to avoid loneliness, transcend death, and give children a headstart in life?

In the world of this novel, AI beings have replaced workers, privileged children can receive (genetic) modifications, and climate change is a big threat. Enter Klara — one of many Artificial Friends, robots who serve as intelligent and caring companions for children.

Like Never Let Me Go, this story is told from a narrator whom society considers to be not fully human. By forcing us to observe and learn about the world through Klara’s eyes, the contradictions and complexities of human behaviors are laid bare before us, alongside the systemic inequities that we often accept as the status quo.

While I wished for more depth, texture, and resolution for some plot points and characters, I did appreciate the way the author explored dualities. For example, the novel gave me a lot to think about regarding the tension between opposing emotions, the thin line between human and machine, and the different choices parents make for their children out of the same sense of love. How much more do we destroy, rather than create, when we step from being a mere mortal into the role of playing god?

Why this drink?

Klara is a solar-powered machine. She even begins to make requests to the sun when it sets over the horizon, on behalf of Josie’s well-being — much like how a human would pray to a deity. For this cocktail pairing, here is my take on the tequila sunset with a smoky, ginger twist.

klara’s sunset

1.5 oz mezcal
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz grenadine
3-4 fresh ginger slices

dried orange wheel

  1. Muddle ginger in shaker.
  2. Combine all other ingredients (except grenadine) on top of the muddled ginger in your shaker tin.
  3. Shake well with ice and strain into glass.
  4. Pour grenadine slowly down the side of your glass to create the “sunset” effect.
  5. Garnish with dried orange wheel for your sun ☀️

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)

Let’s discuss!

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

📖Interior Chinatown: 🍸lychee margarita-tini

📖: Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown (2020)
🍸: lychee margarita-tini

Why this book?

What does it mean to be Asian in America? Each of us will give a different answer because Asian Americans are not a monolithic group. And yet, we’re often treated as one. And throughout much of American history we’ve been seen as a threat. Not just in the 1880’s during the Chinese Exclusion Act, or during the WWII internment of Japanese communities. It’s happening right now, with COVID-related hate crimes against our Asian elders surging this past week. It’s been scary and devastating, during a time of year that’s otherwise celebratory for us who observe Lunar New Year.

Anti-Asian hate crimes aren’t new, but many go unreported because of systemic barriers that @_itslitbooks_ discusses in her recent IG post. The model minority myth also comes into play in this underreporting – to keep us quiet, to not rock the boat, to equate assimilation with the American Dream. This is white supremacy at work. It’s hurting not just our Asian communities, but all communities of color.

This week has been rough. Recent events keep bringing me back to Charles Yu’s INTERIOR CHINATOWN, which I think is an excellent exploration of the invisibility that often feels part of being Asian in America. Yu’s protagonist finds that no matter how much he advances in his acting career, he’s still trapped in a “show that doesn’t have a role for [him].” The novel brings up the idea that we also need to be aware of our complicity – whether it’s through internalized racism or when we fail to stand in solidarity with each other AND with black and brown communities who are also hurting. This is showing up in some responses to the hate crimes, with communities calling for more policing, a solution that’s rooted in anti-blackness.

Gifting and being in community with each other are important traditions for Lunar New Year. In honor of the year of the Ox, consider donating to orgs that do anti-racist work. Support your local Asian or Chinatown businesses. Speak up against race-related hate. Check in with Asian friends and neighbors.

Why this drink?

In Act I, we learn that this is the signature cocktail served at the Golden Palace restaurant where Willis Wu performs his role of Generic Asian Man.

(This recipe has been adapted from the Lemon Lychee Margarita, made by the Barrio in Chicago.)

lychee margarita-tini

1.5 oz golden tequila
1/2 oz Riesling
1/2 oz lemon juice
½ oz lychee syrup, from the can
4 canned lychees

black lava salt and lychee

  1. Rim glass with black salt
  2. Muddle the canned lychees, and strain the juice into a shaker. (You should have ~3/4 oz of juice from the muddled fruit.)
  3. Add all other ingredients into shaker, and shake well with ice.
  4. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with lychee.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015)

Let’s discuss!

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

📖The Best We Could Do: 🍸rewind, reverse

📖: Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do (2017)
🍸: rewind, reverse

Why this book?

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir opens with her giving birth to her first child. As she copes with becoming a new parent, she tries to understand the choices her parents made during and after the Vietnam War. Through her parents’ stories and experiences, she seeks to understand what kind of inheritance she can leave behind for her son. As she unravels her family’s story, she learns how memory, trauma and the refugee reflex are inheritances that are passed down through generations.

Why this drink?

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir resonates with me because my family’s memories of the Vietnam War are part of my inheritance growing up as a first-gen immigrant. Aside from memories, one of the things my grandma passed down to me is an acquired taste for sour, salt, and spice. This drink is a riff on the classic Paloma, but also inspired by the grapefruit wedges that my grandma likes to eat with salt and red Thai chili peppers. This grapefruit drink was also chosen because of the pink and red hues that permeate the pages of this beautifully illustrated graphic memoir.

rewind, reverse

2 oz tequila
4 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
0.75 oz lime juice
0.5 tsp maraschino liqueur 
1-2 drops saline solution*
1-2 oz grapefruit seltzer (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
2 slices thai chili peppers

for garnish:
2 slices of thai chili peppers, sea salt flakes, lime wheel, grapefruit wheel

  1. rim a chilled glass with salt
  2. muddle the chili peppers
  3. combine all ingredients (except for the seltzer) & shake with ice
  4. pour into glass with ice & top off with seltzer
  5. garnish peppers, lime and grapefruit wheels

*To make saline solution, dissolve 1 part salt in 4 parts water.

Quarantine substitutions:
Omit the maraschino liqueur if you don’t have any.
Ground cayenne pepper can be subbed in for the Thai chili peppers.
For the rim, sub the sea salt flakes with regular salt.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (2008)

📖The Refugees: 🍸at home

📖: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2006)
🍸: at home

Why this book?

The Refugees is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of eight short stories about people who have left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Today, April 30th, is the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which spurred a mass exodus of South Vietnamese people, many of whom relocated in the US.

Based on Nguyen’s academic research and cultural critique, he presents the idea that war never dies because its memory continues to live on through its survivors, who then pass it down to their descendants.

For this reason, Nguyen’s fiction broaden the definition of what it means to be a refugee. Refugees are not just the individuals who fled from their home countries. Anyone whose life is still haunted by the memory and trauma of war and displacement is a refugee — even if they are generations away from the original emigres.

This is a provocative reframing of what it means to be a refugee, and an evocative reminder that more empathy and compassion are needed now — especially when the rhetoric of our leaders are rooted in xenophobia and closed border policies. The Refugees is a deeply human book, that give us a snapshot into the lives and memories of Vietnamese refugees, and how they continue to grapple with issues of identity, belonging, family, and loss in a new place that they need to now call home.

Why this drink?

This drink was inspired by chanh muối, an intensely salty, carbonated Vietnamese limeade made with preserved, salted limes and soda water (the crisp carbonation amps up the piquant flavors of salt, sugar, and fermented zest). Because it takes two months to fully pickle the salted limes, I developed this easy-to-make bubbly, salty, lime margarita to evoke the essence of a traditional chanh muối.

I am pairing this chanh muối inspired cocktail with The Refugees because this is a book about memory and displacement, and I associate the limeade with nostalgia and remembrance of a home that’s long gone. My mom grew up in Vietnam during the war, and when I shared my first chanh muối with her, she told me that it reminded her of her childhood in Saigon.

at home

1.5 oz gold tequila 
0.5 oz hot water at 160F 
0.5 triple sec
0.5 oz lemongrass ginger demerara syrup*
half a lime, cut into wedges
1-2 small pinches of smoked sea salt flakes, to taste
1-2 oz club soda, as desired

for garnish:
lime wedge, mint, & smoked sea salt flakes

  1. muddle 4 wedges of lime (~half of a lime)
  2. combine all ingredients (except for club soda) & shake with ice
  3. pour over ice, top off with club soda, add a few flakes of sea salt, to taste
  4. garnish with lime wedge and mint

*Pour demerara sugar and water into a pan (using a 2:1 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 thinly sliced pieces of lemongrass and freshly grated ginger. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

quarantine substitutions:
No lemongrass? No problem – just omit it. No fresh ginger? Use ground ginger as a substitute. If you don’t have any kind of ginger, add a bit of ground black pepper to your simple syrup to give it a subtle kick – don’t go overboard as you don’t want the drink to taste too peppery.

No smoked sea salt? Regular salt will do!

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Aimee Phan’s We Should Never Meet (2004)