Read What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang Online


"What the Zhang Boys Know has a dozen chapters, each one a vivid short story in itself. Garstang makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown are told separately and as part of a web of entanglements. The entrances and exits are handled with the deftness of a French comedy, but the empathy"What the Zhang Boys Know has a dozen chapters, each one a vivid short story in itself. Garstang makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown are told separately and as part of a web of entanglements. The entrances and exits are handled with the deftness of a French comedy, but the empathy of the author brings all the characters achingly alive. What the Zhang Boys Know is a wonderful and haunting book." - John Casey, author of Compass Rose and Spartina, winner of the National Book Award...

Title : What the Zhang Boys Know
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781935708612
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 218 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

What the Zhang Boys Know Reviews

  • Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
    2018-11-16 19:05

    Having recently lost his wife in a horrible accident, Zhang Feng-qi tries to bring up his sons as best as he can, but he is not his wife - he cannot maintain his condo as well as his wife did, nor can he properly answer his two sons, Simon and Wesley, when they insist that their mother will come back. He wonders if his new girlfriend can step in, but knows it is too early to introduce her to the family. He asks his American mother-in-law to help, but she was never supportive of her daughter's marriage so her response isn't that forthcoming. Eventually, he asks his father for help. While the Zhang household is dealing with its own situation, their neighbors are having their own problems - a painter mourns the absence of his love lives and the non-popularity of his paintings, a sculptor isn't sure what to do with the knowledge that he has a son by one of his muses, an insecure woman grapples with her distaste of her long-time boyfriend and his abusive bedroom games.What the Zhang Boys Know is my favorite kind of book - multiple interlinked narrators, who all talk of their lives and problems and occasionally share opinions on other characters. What I love of this book is how very "I" and "me" each story tends to be, while the protagonist of that story makes other characters feel one-dimensional. And in the next story, one of those one-dimensional characters is now the protagonist - suddenly the reader gets this whole bedroom closet view of a new character and learn things you never guessed about that character. I find these kind of books to be the most realistic among fictional works. The narrators aren't bogged with the same plot, so there is no feeling of too many characters. They all have their troubles, desires, losses and achievements - no one is a pawn to move another person's story forward, which is how real life is.The one thing that ties all these people together is that they all stay in the same building called the Nanking Mansion. Nobody likes their digs or their neighborhood. The alleys are trashy and the streets dangerous. Almost everyone in the building has financial troubles. They all, however, know each other, and sometimes help each other out when needed. But mostly, they deal with their problems on their own.With 11 different narrators, there are as many different voices and obsessions in the book. Some are insecure, some depressed, one arrogant and proud, and another one innocent. Among all these narrators with their myriad problems, the Zhang boys appear everywhere. They see more than anyone gives them credit, and it's fascinating reading the same incident from the two perspectives. At the same time, even when they are not accepting enough of their father's new girlfriend, they aren't being unreasonable, they are simply afraid that their mother will never come back if there's another woman in the house.Some stories were clearly more enjoyable than others; some narrators more understandable than others. There is a woman, Claudia, who loses her husband and her job at the same time, and what follows is many long months of trying, at first, to find a respectable job, and later on, any kind of job. A sister helps her a bit but eventually accuses her of being too irresponsible. Even though the sister is right, and anyone would do exactly what the sister did, it is hard to not empathize with Claudia, after spending pages with her, and seeing how much she really is trying and just how close she is to even contemplating suicide.What the Zhang Boys Know is a wonderful short story collection, although it's more than just a short story collection. The characters are connected enough for one to feel a sense of continuity and familiarity. The prose is very quick-paced and highly readable and I could probably have finished the book in a day, but there was a sense of comfort in reading just a story or two a day and then subconsciously pondering about them. The writing was also very beautiful, and the different voices across the stories didn't jar my concentration but instead felt sufficiently seamless and distinct. This one is definitely one of my favorite short story collections.

  • Camilla Stein
    2018-11-01 15:20

    As many stories, as many characters and as many perspectives – but not quite yet.What The Zhang Boys Know opens with a family scene, quite typical for many families, and therefore so easy to relate to, to place oneself into the shoes of the father, the children, the observers who enter into the scene, abruptly, but somehow we know – there’s a purpose, author’s intent behind this.Long sentences intermingle with short sentences, and again, very soon it becomes evident that there’s a meaning for this too. The novel reads like a stream of consciousness, internal dialogue, each new chapter – a short story, complete and self-sufficient – telling us something about each new character in the book.They’re all united, living under one roof, knowing things about each other, speculating about things when not knowing exactly… How very human. And this is the sentiment that strikes the most in this book – the feeling of humanity, our likeness, our being predictable, living within a behavioral frame, so easy to guess, yet so surprising, only because we always hope not to turn out like our neighbor, wanting to be different. And that, we are not.Human emotions, compassion, disappointment, sadness, anger, fear, lust drive the momentum of each story, make one want to turn the pages of What The Zhang Boys Know, make one want to find out what happens next.This novel is a great companion on a carefree Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee in bed, with blinds half shut, tucked into warm and soft pillows and blankets, reading through, getting to know someone else, an imaginary someone, perhaps, but only on a surface.Author Clifford Garstang has done it, a very refreshing literary experience, and what a privilege to have access to the world he created.http://camillasteinreview.wordpress.c...

  • Jennifer
    2018-11-15 14:56

    I won this book in a Good Reads contest, and quite honestly, had not heard of the title, nor the author. I really liked the premise of the book: short stories with a common theme of taking place among the residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C. The first story, entitled "What The Zhang Boys Know" lays the foundation for the rest of the book. The story centers around Feng-Qi Zhang, a recently widowed young father of two little boys. The author examines the father's utter sense of loss and displacement as he tries to figure out how to be a single parent to his two precocious sons. He struggles to comprehend the death of his young wife in a tragic car accident, all the while trying to figure out how to convey this fact to his two sons who are not old enough to understand the meaning of death, and its permanence.The residents of this apartment building, the Nanking Mansion, are a diverse group. They include: a reclusive artist, an African-American attorney, a pregnant young girl and her boyfriend, a recently laid off middle-aged single woman, and a same-sex couple.The common theme among the stories seems to be a sense of loss; the protagonists of each story seem to be struggling with a sense of loss, whether in the present or in the recent past. I found each story to be profoundly affecting. Many of the characters left me feeling slightly sad, and for that reason, I took a long time to read this book. After each story, I felt like I needed to "digest" the feelings I had for the characters before I proceeded to the next one.I really enjoyed this book, and I thought the author did an excellent job of creating interesting characters and believable dialogue.

  • Pamela
    2018-11-03 21:17

    This collection of tightly linked stories has an ingenious conceit: all the narratives deal with the residents of a somewhat slapdash apartment building in an artsy, gentrifying neighborhood of Washington, D.C., seemingly sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s. The transitioning, borderline nature of the location is perfect for creating the sense of flux, possibility, and adventure that fiction thrives upon. The building boasts a couple of artists, an African-American lawyer, a multigenerational Chinese family, a bohemian divorcee, a gay male couple, and more. My favorite stories were those that focused on Feng-qi, a widower with two young sons; the woman who may or may not become his "replacement wife"; his father, newly arrived from China to care for the bereft grandchildren; and his chilly mother-in-law, who didn't approve when her daughter married a Chinese-born man. The first story, "Nanking Mansion," brilliantly, comically, and touchingly disgorges (the verb may seem odd, but is in the circumstances apt) the entire cast of characters and sets up the stories to come.

  • Jodi
    2018-10-26 22:07

    I didn't know what to expect when the book's editor and publisher suggested Zhang Boys to me. All I knew is that Garstang was editor of Prime Numbers and that I have NEVER been disappointed in any Press 53 issue. This book is superbly written! I had mistakenly believed that writing a novel in short-story chapters and allowing various points of view to dictate, depending on the character(s), was too difficult to pull off -- well. Garstang is such a master at this type of structure, there is no confusion but there are extra layers of richness here. I hesitate saying this but I began to see the movie playing in my head. I hope that if it is optioned, the movie will come close to the beauty of this book.

  • Sarah Honenberger
    2018-11-08 21:11

    An engaging and challenging look at city living. Garstang presents his characters in such emotional detail that you feel you would recognize them from a conversation. Chinatown in Washington, DC, familiar to me from my post-college pre-law school days is rendered in living color in his connected stories. So pleased that the judges at the Library of Virginia Fiction award recognized his talent in this second book.

  • Suzanne
    2018-10-27 14:08

    Set in modern day Washington DC, What the Zhang Boys Know is a collection of short stories, connected by common threads: the characters all live in the same building of condominiums in a run-down (but up and coming) section of Chinatown, they are lonely, and have suffered loss and disappointment. The Zhang boys are the young children of Fenq-qi Zhang, a widower whose life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a motor-vehicle accident. While the boys do not know everything that is revealed to the reader, the title is indicative of the special vantage point we are to receive. We will be let on to something that everyone else doesn't see.Here's what I liked about this book: The idea connecting the different lives through separate stories is wonderful. It affords the reader the opportunity to witness the lives and actions of the many characters sometimes in their own words, and sometimes narrated by the author himself. Clifford Garstang presents a novel that is eloquent and vivid in imagery. The prose is outstanding. Here's an example when Fenq-qi travels to China to escort his father home: "Gone were the dark gray streets filled with sturdy, bell-ringing bicycles, replaced by broad-avenues and honking cars; gone, too, were the fierce political billboards, overtaken by neon Coca-Cola signs and Golden Arches."Here is what disappointed me about this book: I am no prude, but the characters represented are dark, edgy and frankly, disturbing. We are given a view of these people, but we are not allowed to warm to them. For instance - the character Aloysius acts in ways that can infer kindness, but we don't know why he helps people. Does he feel compassion? Is he attracted to these people? Does it give him a sense of belonging? We'll never know because Aloysius, like the other characters, don't really permit us to witness any depth of emotion. Because of this, they remain distant and the reader is only engaged in a very limited way.I also found the different perspectives weren't different enough. When a book is narrated by several characters, I would expect the language to differ quite a bit between narratives. This was not the case. If the character development had extended to the language of the storytellers, in addition to adding emotion and personal observation of the people they interact with, I would have been more drawn to these characters. In actuality, I was repelled by them. This is too bad, because it could have been an uplifting tale of humans finding comfort and solace in each other.

  • Daniel Kolecki
    2018-10-27 16:24

    It's all about perspective. That has come to be one of my own personal philosophies to live by as I journey through life. That may very well be why this book seemed to ring so true and captivate me as I turned page after page. Clifford Garstang writes about the lives of many, allowing us to be exposed to many perspectives of the main characters. He dives deep into the personal worlds of those which he writes about.I initially thought this would be the sort of story written about different lives somehow being woven together by a common mystical thread. Something like the TV drama 6 Degrees of Separation, or Netflix's Sense 8. In some ways I still see some semblance of this story telling method, but the author does something far more brilliant with his characters and their personal stories. There is mastery in the use of tense and language catered to the specific moment and character in the novel that truly conveys what I took from this book. There are many sides to people, seen from many angles. Theirs is an ever evolving sense of self, flowing along a timeline of sorts.This novel is very well written; written in a way that could appeal to both the lover of the short story, and the lover of the novel. I am reluctant to write too much more, in fear I will somehow spoil something. For me, what I enjoyed most was being immersed in the rather complex lives of these people. If you were just to pass them in the hallway, they might just seem like people in the background. The routine. Yet, if there is one thing I know about life, it is that nothing is routine.What do you know about your neighbor down the hall or the family in the house down the road? What the Zahng Boys Know tells us what we hopefully already suspect. There is far more to anyone than we may know on the surface. Oh, the stories these people could tell, and they do. I suppose in the end, that's just life, and what amazing and incredibly complex lives they are, captured in this incredible book.

  • Janice Williams
    2018-11-12 16:14

    I just finished "What the Zhang Boys Know" last night and loved it. I purchased the ebook version and read it in about four evenings before bedtime. I love the set-up of the book, which concerns the residents of a condo building. I like the way each chapter relates to the others, but is a short story, of sorts, in itself. I've always liked this format in fiction. Some of the characters are Chinese or Chinese-American, and Chinese culture has always interested me in fiction. When I read the author's bio at the end of the book, I suspected what knowledge and expertise from his various experiences likely contributed to his being able to create such believable, sympathetic characters. Clifford Garstang is an excellent storyteller and writer. As an editor, I was able to put aside my editor's hat, my writer's hat, and just enjoy the story because it was expertly crafted. The writing was so good, nothing tripped me up or irritated me (I tend to have a short attention span for sloppy writing). I cared about these characters and wanted to know what was going to happen to them. Each night I looked forward to finding out more. Many years ago, I enjoyed "Tales of the City" by Armistead Maupin. "What the Zhang Boys Know" also left me wishing/hoping that there would be a book 2 (or a TV series) featuring these characters, in their East Coast city, sharing lives in their condo that seems to be on the edge of respectability. At the end of one of my favorite movies "Frankie and Johnny" with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, Pfeifer's character looks into the windows of apartments (first shown at the beginning of the movie), and we see how each apartment dweller ends their day. I just love that scene. "What the Zhang Boys Know" had that same feel for me.I recommend this book to all my friends who like contemporary fiction with characters from diverse backgrounds, thrown together by circumstance or coincidence. Clifford Garstang, please write a sequel!

  • Eric Wyatt
    2018-11-08 17:02

    Good fiction transports us into other worlds. Sometimes, this takes the form of the sweeping Civil War epic or the Deep Space Trilogy--big, complex novels filled with a large cast of main characters and more extras than could be supplied by a Hollywood casting company.While Clifford Garstang's new book, What the Zhang Boys Know, is less assuming in scope, it nevertheless settles us into an unknown world both captivating and complex in its own way. The setting for The Zhang Boys isn't necessarily "sweeping" or even unfamiliar: a suburban neighborhood teetering between middle-class and poverty, where the scale seems weighted toward poverty.What makes these stories click isn't Nanking Mansion--the renovated D.C. area condominium building that serves as the center-point of this familiar-yet-foreign world--but the residents into whose lives we are given little glimpses. In twelve interwoven stories, Garstang opens up for us a subtly complex world filled with love, loss, longing, and loneliness.Reading this book left me with that same feeling I had as a young boy, the first time I placed a drop of pond water on a microscope slide: At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much there, but as you focus in, a whole world of wonders is revealed.What the Zhang Boys Know is one drop of water from the Big Pond, and Garstang's gift is his ability to focus in on the particulars and reveal the complex web of life teaming in that single drop. Each of these stories is fine standing alone, but the collected force of them is best experienced as a bigger whole; they work together to reveal universal experiences through a truly unique authorial lens. Each story is crafted with the same skill and artistry Garstang demonstrated in his lovely collection, In An Uncharted Country, but here, the stories work together to give us a bigger, more fully-realized world both heartbreaking and beautiful.

  • Betsy Ashton
    2018-11-10 21:17

    If you are looking for a different experience in fiction, I invite you to read What the Zhang Boys Know, a novel in stories by Clifford Garstang. Twelve interlocking stories, each one capable of standing alone, weave a story about a disparate group of characters who inhabit Nanking Mansion, a semi-gentrified building in a marginal area of Washington, D.C.We first meet Zhang Feng-qi, widowed father of two boys under six in "Nanking Mansion." Faced with losing his boys to his pushy mother-in-law who doesn't really want them, he brings his father from China to take care of them. The boys, Simon and Wesley, teach their grandfather about life in the United States, while he teaches them about their heritage. The boys are our conduit to everyone in their building, from the sculptor, to a minor poet, to a painter and an interior designer, thereby providing a link between the tales of each of the characters.Garstang's prose is poetic. His grasp on cultural norms and misunderstandings brings the reader to tears and chuckles, often in the same paragraph. Although there is no consistent plot, each story stands alone and also drives forward sketches of the characters who inhabit Nanking Mansion. A wonderful read. Well worth the time. You'll want to finish it in one sitting, but sip it. Read a story, think about it, then go on to the next. You'll be glad you did.

  • Carol
    2018-10-19 19:14

    What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang is a collection of interconnected stories set in the Nanking Mansion. The Mansion was redone into twelve condos. The residents of the condos were all unique but I felt most comfortable with the Zhang Feng family. The core characters were widowed Zhang Feng, his father from Shanghai and his two boys, Wesley and Simon.I loved the little boys and their child like thinking. The boys burst into the lives of the inhabitants and often leave a trail of delight.The stories that I didn't feel good about those chapters that was depressing. I usually don't read a book of short stories because I get so attached to the main characters that I don't want them to go away. One the chapters, "A Hole in the Wall" started out very gloomy but the Zhang boys brought joy to the condo owner and I loved them for that.I would recommend this book more to people who love short stories and to all people interested in a book that connects characters together in a delightful way.

  • Tricia Dower
    2018-10-27 18:17

    An intelligent and compelling collection of original stories about characters who live in a condo building called Nanking Mansion and appear in each other’s stories. My favorites are the poignant six in which Feng-qi Zhang, his motherless sons, his father and his girlfriend appear. The collection is book-ended by two of these stories, giving the collection the feel of a novel brought to a satisfying conclusion, in this case a story of love lost, love found and love lost again. The last story, “The Shrine to His Ancestors,” is especially moving. I would have liked the entire book to be about the Zhangs. Other stories I particularly liked were “Hunger,” in which the author deftly shows us through defining details the consequences of a self-indulgent, unaware life, “The Nations of Witness,” which I enjoyed both for its voice and scope, and “Artoyen’s Razor,” for the voice of Sam Artoyen and the plot twist. Garstang writes convincingly in different voices, both male and female, creating complete and nuanced lives for his characters, even those in the spotlight for a brief time.

  • Mary
    2018-11-09 21:05

    Nanking Mansion is a sprawling subdivided house located in an (almost gentrified) area of Washington DC and populated by a host of fascinating multicultural characters whose lives intersect by virtue of their shared space. WHAT THE ZHANG BOYS KNOW gives us a glimpse into these lives, each one more enticing than the last, as the stories accumulate to tell an intricate and multilayered tale of love and loss and the lingering effects of both. The enticing narrative pull of these stories left me feeling as if I were observing the mansion in a thunderstorm, each flash of lightning a story that briefly and brilliantly illuminates the fascinating lives behind its windows, with the final, climactic story its great crescendo.

  • Len Joy
    2018-10-22 18:02

    John Casey says of Garstang’s linked collection of stories, “The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown are told separately and as part of a web of entanglements…but the empathy of the author brings all the characters achingly alive.”I can’t really describe this gem of a collection any better than that. “Achingly alive,” is exactly how I felt about these characters. The residents of Nanking Mansion suffer and stumble and screw up, but each in their own way seems to somehow offer us the hope if not the certainty that they will transcend. These are great stories, expertly crafted.

  • Jonathan Rintels
    2018-10-25 16:20

    I really enjoyed this book. The engaging stories of the eclectic condo owners in the "Nanking Mansion" in DC's Chinatown are woven together masterfully. The characters are sharply observed. The details are delicious. This is a work of art created by an author who clearly knows his craft. Read this book and pass it on. Be a part of the broad readership that it deserves.

  • Bonnie ZoBell
    2018-11-13 19:19

    A wonderful linked collection set in a low-income neighborhood in Washington, DC. The Zhang boys and their father are trying to recover from the death of their mother and wife, difficult emotionally as well as in their life style. Who will take care of the boys? They kids help the reader to explore the many other tenants living in the building, all eccentric in their own ways. A great read.

  • Harvee
    2018-11-01 13:58

    These are moving stories of lives accidentally touching through close proximity in the condominium of a busy cosmopolitan city. I found it excellent writing and story telling, realistic, with a framework that is perfect for these stories of urban life.

  • Natalie
    2018-10-23 19:58

    Check out SummerBooks for a complete and thorough discussion of What the Zhang Boys Know (complete with fancy drink recommendation). :-)

  • Betsy
    2018-11-14 19:07

    It's remarkable the depth the author brings to his characters - as if he's lived each life himself. Amazing writing/ very enjoyable book.

  • Leslie
    2018-11-08 19:23

    The Zhang boys, young Simon and Wesley, live with their father, Feng-qi, in the Nanking Mansion, a 12-unit condominium building in the Washington, DC area near Chinatown. Zhang Feng-qi is a widower; his American wife was recently killed in a car accident. Although none of their parents approved of their marriage, his father has moved here from China and his mother-in-law has just arrived for a visit to help with the boys. The boys believe their mother is coming back; Feng-qi is searching for a replacement wife.The book is composed of twelve short stories, each centering around one of the residents of the building. They are a diverse group of people brought vividly to life in their pain, sorrow and longings. While each of them are flawed, they are also sympathetic, well-drawn characters. The writing was beautiful. The stories came alive. The shifting viewpoints and changes in writing style as we heard from the different individuals enhanced the reading experience.In A Hole in the Wall we meet a young attorney as he takes a sledge hammer to a wall, ostensibly to begin construction on a balcony, but really to dull the pain of his failed marriage. There is the painter in The Face in the Window, who is haunted by a face in one of his paintings, an image from the past. In Hunger, a woman’s lifelong irresponsible behavior leaves her penniless and she must sell her possessions to survive. In The Replacement Wife we meet the young woman who Feng-qi hopes will become his new wife and mother to his children, but she hasn’t told him that she is unable to have children of her own. We also meet the sculptor, the writer, the gay couple, the building owner and the young couple renting the front unit from an owner who will expectantly return, each with their own story, each a part of the whole.I enjoy short stories, especially those that are interconnected by characters or theme. While each of these stories could stand on their own, they are part of a novel. There are threads through each story that tie them together and weave them into one tale. Over a period of a year’s time we observe the neighbors interact with each other, some in the most unlikely ways. And through each story the Zhang boys are ever-present and know something about each resident.I know some of my readers are not fond of short stories, but this is more like a novel because of the way the characters interact with each other. If a book has a beginning and an end, it’s a novel. The last story, The Shrine to His Ancestors, gives us resolution for Feng-qi; and while I would like to know what ultimately happened to the other residents of Nanking Mansion, that is left to our imagination.

  • Laura Azzi
    2018-11-12 14:23

    Clifford Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know is an imaginative novel told in short stories about the inhabitants of Nanking Mansion condominiums in Chinatown, Washington, DC. Garstang’s wonderful prose weaves an intense storyline as each short story shifts the spotlight from character to character, condominium to condominium. Each character’s life is very real and engaging, often funny and dark in nature. Garstang navigates you through the moving and often distressing tragedy of complicated lives creating a thread that ties all the condominium inhabitants together.I particularly liked the short stories “Hungry” and “The Replacement Wife”. In “Hungry”, the story navigates us through waves of disappointment for Claudia as she tries to land a job with status: her bills rise with no money for food, leading her to sell her possessions. Her only hope is her estranged sister, Daphne, whom she knows has the funds to lend her but…it’s complicated. Told with dry wit, Claudia contemplates suicide rather than ask Daphne for money. I found unexpected delight when she reaches an epiphany in her darkest hour.In “The Replacement Wife”, a distraught Jessica faces not just the turmoil of her impending hysterectomy but the drama of keeping a secret on the cusp of her engagement to Feng-qi or Mr. Zhang, a widower who is the father of the Zhang boys. Knowing she is replacing Feng-qi’s beloved dead wife, she questions her need for security in the absence of true love and communication. Feeling estranged and secondary in the household, she moves forward with the wedding while ever slipping into another world of existence. In the next story, “The Shrine to His Ancestors”, we learn about her on-going affair with the writer, Nathan, who also lives in Nanking Mansion, which causes her beliefs to unravel.Each chapter of this book is a short story that goes deep into the lives of this building’s inhabitants. These stories are not a light walk through life but rather thought-provoking and often life changing narratives that are both personal and universal. Garstang allows the reader to find their own truth through fictional truth and in doing so, I believe the reader will find a morsel of themselves within each story.

  • Laura de Leon
    2018-10-23 17:09

    3.5 starsWhat the Zhang Boys know was an uneven collection of short stories, with a very definite voice that bound them even tighter than the shared location.The stories I enjoyed most were the ones that directly involved the Zhang Boys. I found that the author's style worked very well for me with these, and I was able to identify with the characters fast enough to be invested, even in the small space of an individual story.I wish that the story "What the Zhang Boys Know about Life on the Planet Earth" had ended the book. I loved how it tied into the other stories that preceded it with a very different viewpoint. The story that did end the book did a better job of wrapping up the life of the Zhangs, but didn't tie up the entire book in the same way. What I liked best about the book as a whole was the way the the stories interwove.Unfortunately, when it came to the stories that weren't about the Zhang boys, I didn't connect with the characters, and I didn't think the distinctive voice added to the stories. These generally looked at the characters at low point in their lives, when they were in the midst of making bad decisions, and it was difficult to care in the time I spent with each one. The couple with a relationship with hints of 50 Shades of Gray, the gay couple with a missing dog, that couldn't connect with each other, the novelist and the sculptor that got to know their neighbors very well... I just didn't relate.I also didn't get a sense of the Chinatown setting for the building. The building itself had such promise (why did it have a gallery of artwork, anyway?), but I never had a sense of it either. The book was a collection of portraits of the characters, with a blurred background behind them, just enough detail to cause me to wonder.It is possible that I'm missing some of the point of this-- I often have trouble with Literary Writing by male authors.The plots are interesting, and might work better for someone else. Certainly, I'm happy I got to know the Zhang Boys and their immediate family, and perhaps you'll see more reward in the others as well.

  • Trish
    2018-11-13 19:59

    What the Zhang Boys Know: A Novel in Stories by Clifford Garstang is a book of interconnected short stories which gives us a glimpse into the lives of several neighbors in a Washington DC condominium building.In the first story, Nanking Mansion, we meet the Zhang family, which consists of the father Feng-qi, his two sons, Simon and Wesley, and Feng-qi’s father, who has recently come from China to live with them. Feng-qi’s wife has died several months before, although the boys still do not fully believe she is not coming back. As Feng-qi waits for the arrival of his first date since becoming a widower, he is surprised by a sudden visit from his mother-in-law. This is the day, he reflects later, on which he realizes that “no matter how much he planned, no matter how settled he thought he was, his life was an ocean of change over which he had no control.”This sentiment holds true for all of the inhabitants of Nanking Mansion, as we see in the increasingly gritty stories that follow. Although some of them were a bit dark for my taste, I did like how they were connected, not only by the appearance of the Zhang boys somewhere in each one, but also by the way the different tenants lives intersected and overlapped in various ways.The saddest and yet most hopeful moment for me was when the older Zhang boy, Simon, finally accepts that his mother is gone in the story What the Zhang Boys Know About Life on Planet Earth:"More than ever, he wishes Mama were here, to take him home to Nanking Mansion, to cook dinner for their family, to tell him stories, to bring him pudding in bed and talk to him about all the things he doesn’t understand. But she isn’t there, and for the first time since the accident he thinks maybe she isn’t coming back. Maybe, just maybe, he and Wesley are going to have to find their own way, without their mother, across all the streets and rivers and deserts in the world."Sad because, of course, no boy should grow up without his mother, but hopeful because we see a glimmer of possibility that he won’t end up lost and aimless as many of his neighbors have.

  • T.L. Sherwood
    2018-11-19 17:57

    For the most part, the twelve stories are well balanced and it has a genuinely interesting flow. The residents of Nanking Mansion often base their opinions of others on appearances, which Suzanna in “The Game of Love,” warns against. While her ex-lover is across the street watching her, she knows that “he is blind to the woman she has always wanted to be.” I loved that line, as I know I’m capable of overlooking other people’s growth. Feng-qi in “The Shrine to His Ancestors” concludes that “life was an ocean of change over which he had no control.” The pairings, the visitors, the little dogs gone missing all exemplify the changes taking place in the city, the building itself, and the people housed inside.I can’t say I liked every story, as the title story seemed contrived. I understand why it was included, but as I don’t recall Jessica mentioning that the Zhang Boy’s left on an adventure to find their mother, or that Feng-qi does either, so Simon and Wesley’s story falls short in my eyes. I would have preferred a subtler tale from these two fine young men whom I’d come to know and genuinely like. One story out of twelve falling short is knocking it out of the park, though.The arrangement of the stories is far superior to the way Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists was structured. That was the last “novel told in short stories” I’ve read straight through. I know part of my disappointment in Rachman’s book was from the hype it received. I knew Clifford Garstang was awarded a prize for his book recently–a form of “hype”–yet I was delighted with these characters and their stories. The 2013 Library of Virginia Award for Fiction was well deserved. The final stories are grouped in a lovely way and I was reminded of the stoicism of Buck’s The Good Earth.This book was purchased at AWP this spring. I still have more books from then to go through, so I probably won’t have a chance to reread any of these stories for a while, but the characters, their paintings, sculptures, and the hole in the wall that lets in the pigeons will stay with me. (From my blog)

  • Paulette Livers
    2018-10-23 13:56

    The line between "linked story collection" and "novel-in-stories" has been a popular discussion topic at literary conferences for a while now. Whether this book reads for you as a collection or novel will depend on which side of that line you find yourself. Each "chapter" definitely stands alone as a tightly constructed story, as witnessed by the impressive list of publications which have accepted them in the years leading up to the book's release. My own take is that a single individual story here neither suffers nor gains from knowledge I gleaned from any other single story. While the link of location in one rehabbed condo building focuses the book in a satisfying way, one unified arc does not seem to emerge. I thought of similarly constructed books I've read in the last decade. Dylan Landis's "Normal People Don't Live Like This" contains stories which definitely stand alone, but accumulate into a single story arc. The same holds for Nami Mun's "Miles from Nowhere" and Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge." By the same token, I heard a woman at a literary conference session—at which this very topic was being discussed—stand up and stridently protest that she felt she had been "fooled" by such books.All this is is beside the point though, because Garstang's writing is worth the trip. Several of the characters in these stories are standout portraits of individuals we have run into in real life: the condo's developer who is desperate to unload the last units; the baffled fiancé of Mr Zhang who seems not so much to act on her life as allow it to act upon her; the frightened and abused girlfriend of an artist who lives in the building. The stories share a theme that may occur to the reader some time after the last page has been turned: people seemingly without agency in their lives need not give up on ever finding that agency.

  • Becky
    2018-10-29 22:15

    The building is known as the Nanking Mansion. Home to twelve condos and an assortment of characters, it serves as the connecting web between the short stories in Clifford Garstang's What the Zhang Boys Know.First we meet Zhang Feng-qi and his sons, Simon and Wesley. Feng-qi has recently lost his wife to a tragic car accident. He's struggling in his new role as a single father and hopes that he'll soon find a woman who can help fill the hole his wife left in her death. He's also just recently brought his aging father over from China.His neighbors are: a young seemingly enamored couple, an artist, a sculptor, a recently divorced lawyer, a gay couple who live together with their pug, and a woman who's recently lost her job. Then there's the building manager and the author who sublet his apartment to the young couple.Each person gets their own story in this collection. Each character is richly detailed and very flawed. In fact, it's downright difficult to find anything redeeming about a few of these folks. Others, though, are charming in their own ways. All of them are utterly fascinating.All of the stories can certainly stand alone as short literary pieces. As a collection, though, I really love the use of the building as a theme that brings them all together. As someone who already imagines weird and unlikely stories about their own neighbors (hey, I've never met most of them. I can't help it!), I find it very easy to picture each of the people in Nanking Mansion living in the houses around me. Which just makes me wonder what's going on behind those closed doors even more than before!

  • Patty
    2018-11-12 16:23

    I am generally not a fan of short stories; they are all literary and float somewhere way above my head mocking me with my inability to understand them. Rife with deep hidden meanings that my very literal thought processes will never manage to uncover. If I had read any one of the stories included in What the Zhang Boys Know I would still feel that way, but taken together they help to explain each other a bit. I can't say I completely understand all the nuances but I am at least not completely lost in another world.I just don't think I'm smart enough for books like this. Or thoughtful enough. Or deep enough or I don't know what enough.That being said reading this series of tales straight through was enjoyable. Each chapter while not a building block to the next as in a book did provide clues to the overall theme of the volume. Having been left mildly confused at the end of the first short story I had some answers at the end of the second. As for the characters - the Zhang boys of the title are pretty much on the peripheral of all that goes on. The adults in their condo building are the drivers of the stories; each one damaged in their own way. Each one settling for a low rent life in a low rent building wanting more but either just taking the status quo or blowing up their life and the lives of others to feel something.The book is well written but left me, overall a bit depressed.

  • Shirley
    2018-11-01 15:02

    Each chapter comprising What the Zhang Boys Know belongs to a different resident in a condo complex, which is a unique method of story-telling. The characters' lives intertwine to an extent, making the sum of the short stories into a short novel. All the residents are neighbours of Zhang Feng-qi, a recent widower raising two young sons and in search of a mother for his children. As the individuals' stories reveal their lives, trials and loves; we learn that the young Zhang boys know a lot more than one could imagine. The reveal comes piece by piece, little by little with What the Zhang Boys Know.I like the unique approach in connecting the characters, making a community from the people. Clifford Garstang writes in an easy, fluid manner though I found some of the subject matter not to my personal reading tastes. Overall, it's much like a soap opera mini-series which is carried off very well by Mr. Garstang. The ending surprised me and I found myself adding to the story to resolve the story to my liking. Warning: mature situations, sexual situations, violence and profanitySee my full review to be posted on My Bookshelf November 8, 2012

  • Steve
    2018-11-12 18:00

    The novel-in-stories approach is one that, to me, never quite satisfies the requirements of a novel. I need a novel to show me an overarching narrative thread that pulls the stories together. In the case of "What the Zhang Boys Know" that thread is pulled tighter than most. The stories link up through the residents of the building, and how they interact. I often found myself wondering if small passages were added in to the stand-alone stories that would strengthen this connective tissue. In any event, the stories do feel like parts of a greater whole.The characters in this book are wonderfully rendered and Garstang's mastery of their individual voices really carries this collection. Though many of them deal with the similar issues with relationships and infidelity, the characters that most stood out to me were the ones that broke that mold: the unemployed woman struggling with poverty and pride or the swindling real-estate developer whose body is about to give out. Each story finds a different way to enthrall the reader.