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Places, Cultures & Identities

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Small Aircraft Transport in Alaska (05/22)
Small airplanes are a common form of transport in Leigh Newman's collection of short stories, Nobody Gets Out Alive, set primarily in Alaska. Several of the stories take place on a lake where homes boast 'seaplane docks.' Alaska is a vast, sparsely populated region where it's estimated that around 80% of communities exist beyond the reach...
Colonization and the Irish Language (05/22)
In Audrey Magee's The Colony, one of the characters dedicates his career to salvaging a language that is under threat of extinction: Irish. The source of his research is a multi-generational family, the oldest of whom speaks Irish exclusively, while the youngest is very much Anglicized. This family's linguistic patterns are representative...
Skinship in Korean Culture (05/22)
'Skinship' is a term commonly used to describe physical affection in Korean culture. It can be read as a portmanteau of the words 'skin' and 'kinship.' In the eponymous story from her book Skinship, Yoon Choi puts a different spin on the word's agreed meaning and uses it in an unexpected way. In the last scenes, instead of any kind of ...
West Windsor and Plainsboro, New Jersey (05/22)
As Fabian Nicieza comments in an author's note for Suburban Dicks, 'fiction means it is not real.' But that said, the two towns he uses as the setting for the novel—West Windsor and Plainsboro—are definitely real places. Let's take a trip to explore these suburban paradises, shall we?

The area where West Windsor and ...
Religious Sectarianism in Glasgow: Then and Now (05/22)
One theme of Douglas Stuart's Young Mungo is the quotidian experience of violence. In part, this violence comes from warring sectarian gangs, whose vicious rivalry wreaks havoc in Glasgow's East End. Enmity between Protestants and Catholics has a long history in Glasgow, as well as Scotland more generally. It can be traced back to the ...
Ariadne in Greek Mythology (04/22)
In her novel Ariadne, Jennifer Saint retells events from the life of the mythological title figure. In Greek mythology, Ariadne is known for helping the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur — a beast who was the offspring of Ariadne's mother and a bull — and find his way out of the Labyrinth, the maze beneath her father's palace. In...
LGBTQ+ History and Community in Richmond, Virginia (04/22)
In S.A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins attempt to solve the murder of their sons, Isiah and Derek, by sorting through the married couple's former lives in Richmond, Virginia. As they speak to Isiah and Derek's friends and acquaintances, they put together a better picture of who their sons were, and of the ...
Black Americans in Paris (04/22)
In The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Opal Jewel finds solace in Paris when her music partner, Nev Charles, has become increasingly unreliable due to an opioid addiction.

It begins at Versailles with a charity fashion show designed to raise money for the palace's restoration, where celebrity attendees include Stephen Burrows, one of the ...
Ukraine's Babushkas: The Women Who Refused to Leave Chernobyl (03/22)
Some of the main characters in Kalani Pickhart's I Will Die in a Foreign Land grew up in Chernobyl in the north of Ukraine, an area that had been home to tens of thousands of families for generations, until the explosion in reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26th, 1986 sparked the worst nuclear disaster the world ...
Hong Kong's "Lion Rock Spirit" (03/22)
In The Impossible City, Karen Cheung references a cultural code of conduct in Hong Kong called Lion Rock Spirit. Lion Rock is a 495 meter (1,600 ft) granite mountain in Kowloon Park in the urban area of Kowloon, in southern Hong Kong. but the idea of Lion Rock Spirit as a set of values has a more unlikely origin story. In the 1970s, a TV ...
Who Really Has Your Back? Queerness and the Black Community (03/22)
In Nobody's Magic, a novel about three different black women with albinism who are on journeys of self-discovery, the social circles readers become privy to serve to normalize some of the characters' queerness. There are multiple queer moments throughout the novel; in Suzette's story, a character named Drina struggles with telling Suzette...
The Lost (and Found) Community of Weeksville (03/22)
Greenidge's character Dr. Cathy Sampson in Libertie is based on the real-life story of Dr. Susan McKinney Steward, the first Black woman to become a medical doctor in New York State. The novel's setting, meanwhile, is based on the historical settlement of Weeksville, which was located in what is now the Crown Heights neighborhood in the ...
A History of Acapulco and Ongoing Cartel Control (02/22)
Acapulco de Juárez, commonly known as Acapulco, is a city located on the coast of Mexico in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The name 'Acapulco' is believed to come from a word in the Náhuatl (Aztec) language meaning 'place of the reeds.' Once considered a desirable vacation spot and bustling resort town, Acapulco has in ...
The Women of ISIS (02/22)
Known for its brutal track record of executions and torture of hostages and civilians (including women and children), some may find it surprising that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group attracts a fair number of female recruits. While there are mitigating factors that vary for each woman, for many the appeal seems ...
Albania, Then and Now (02/22)
Lea Ypi's memoir Free charts the author's coming of age in a family of dissidents in Albania in the 1980s and '90s, before and after the fall of communism. Albania is located in southern Europe in the Balkan Peninsula, with the Adriatic Sea on its western border and Greece, North Macedonia and Kosovo to the east. The earliest recorded ...
Challah (02/22)
In "Birdsong from the Radio," a story in Elizabeth McCracken's collection The Souvenir Museum, the main character fills the void of her missing children by consuming a loaf of challah daily. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread that is usually braided. It can come in many different forms, but it is often made as a soft, ...
Mendocino, California (02/22)
Even amidst ghosts; a loving, family-centered farm; and the courageous Mila trying to face horrible memories from her past, Nina LaCour's description of Mendocino, California in Watch Over Me stands out when Mila gets her chance to go there as part of a farmer's market:

Mendocino greeted us with its tiny business district, its ...

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) (02/22)
In his memoir Buses Are a Comin', Charles Person explains that he got involved with the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s through fellow students at his school, Morehouse College, which is one of the country's oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The HBCU designation was created by the ...
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum (01/22)
A key scene in We Are Not Like Them occurs when one character impulsively stops at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and its associated Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

Both the memorial and the museum were created as a result of efforts by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to honor those Black Americans who were ...
Escalating Anti-Muslim Sentiment in India (01/22)
At the time of the partition in 1947, what was once the British colony of India was split, separating the predominantly Hindu Dominion of India (modern-day Republic of India) from the predominantly Muslim Dominion of Pakistan (modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh). Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru envisaged India as a secular socialist ...
Multiculturalism and Racism in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales (01/22)
Nadifa Mohamed's novel The Fortune Men takes place in Tiger Bay, the dockland district of the city of Cardiff, Wales. According to the BBC, Tiger Bay, now known as Butetown, is considered Wales' oldest multi-ethnic community and people from over 50 countries have settled there. While she was working on her novel, Mohamed explained in an ...
The Republic of Chad (01/22)
Much of Ken Follett's novel Never is set in present-day Chad, a landlocked nation located in north-central Africa. Officially known as The Republic of Chad, at 496,000 square miles, the country is the fifth largest on the continent.

Chad has a long and complex history; it's one of the areas scientists believe may have been the cradle ...
East Asian Populations in Plano, Texas (01/22)
Simon Han's debut novel Nights When Nothing Happened is set in Plano, Texas, located about 20 miles north of Dallas and 50 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The Chengs, who are Chinese American, have chosen to live in Plano because it is a safe community with good schools, but what's not stated overtly is that the city and surrounding area ...
The Legacy of Ireland's Curses (01/22)
In Ruth Gilligan's novel The Butchers' Blessing, we meet a small yet devoted group of people who strive to uphold historic, ritualistic methods of cattle slaughter in 1990s Ireland. They do this in accordance with their continued belief in the power of the so-called 'Curse of the Farmer's Widow.' Born of an ancient folktale of unknown ...
The Canadian Shield (12/21)
In the acknowledgments at the end of her book, A Town Called Solace, author Mary Lawson writes, 'The town of Solace exists only in my imagination, but the setting is very real: the vast and beautiful area of lakes and rocks and forests known as the Canadian Shield, in Northern Ontario.'

A continental shield is a large expanse of land ...
Muskiiki: The Four Sacred Ojibwe Medicines (12/21)
In Firekeeper's Daughter, Daunis is interested in how her fellow Ojibwe tribe members use medicinal herbs. She chooses to study pre-med courses and plant biology at college so that she may go on to study ethnobotany through an indigenous lens, and also learns directly from her tribe's Elders.

Traditional medicine is an important part ...
Jaipur, Rajasthan (India's "Pink City") (12/21)
Alka Joshi's novel The Secret Keeper of Jaipur takes place in the city of Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan and home to over three million people.

Founded in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh II, Jaipur is said to be the first completely planned city in India. The Maharaja became aware that his current capital, Amber (now ...
Mount Osorezan (11/21)
Mount Osorezan, or Mount Osore, is located on the northern end of Honshu, the largest of the four main islands of Japan. An active volcano, its name translates to 'Fear Mountain.' It's a popular pilgrimage site because of its Buddhist temple and because of the occasional presence of the itako — female mediums believed to be able...
Megiddo (11/21)
In To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss, a character in the story 'End Days' is an archaeologist working at Tel Megiddo, the site of the ancient Palestinian city of Megiddo, which is situated near present-day Haifa, Israel. 'Tel' refers to the 'mound' on the site in which excavations have uncovered 26 layers of remains of ancient ...
Svalbard, Norway (11/21)
Svalbard, formerly known as Spitsbergen, is a mountainous, snowfield-covered Norwegian archipelago located above the Arctic Circle that provides the primary setting for Sven's adventures in The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller. As described in the novel, there are three primary seasons in Svalbard: sunny winter, a period ...
Who Are the Cossacks? (11/21)
In The Amur River: Between Russia and China, Colin Thubron engages with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. One of these individuals is Alexei, an Amur Cossack who proudly meets the author decked out in his ceremonial uniform, yelling exuberantly 'the Cossacks are coming back!' But who are the Cossacks?

First, the term '...
Eshu: The Yoruba God of Mischief (10/21)
Eshu (also spelled Esu, and also known as Elegba) is a powerful deity in the Ifa religion of the Yoruba people of Western Africa. He is an orisha, a figure that can be a representation of human or divine characteristics or concepts, as well as aspects of nature, such as rivers. A primordial orisha, Eshu represents mischief. However, he is...
The Legacy of Slavery at Monticello (10/21)
In the novella that makes up the second half of My Monticello, survivors of a white nationalist uprising seek shelter at Thomas Jefferson's estate. Jefferson's former residence and plantation located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and currently operates as a museum dedicated to the third U.S. ...
The Muisca (10/21)
In Patricia Engel's novel Infinite Country, several of the main characters draw inspiration from their Muisca ancestors and legends. The Muisca, also known as the Chibcha, are an indigenous civilization that thrived in present-day Colombia before Europeans colonized the area. Bogotá, Colombia's capital city, is situated on an ancient...
Harlem and the End of the Civil Rights Era (09/21)
Harlem, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, was a crucial setting during the Civil Rights Era, which spanned approximately 1950 to 1964, arguably culminating with the passage of the controversial Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Great Migration in the early 20th century brought a considerable number of Black residents to the neighborhood, ...
Nomadic Housing: Somalia and Beyond (09/21)
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that in 2020 there were more than 82 million people displaced from their homes due to human rights issues such as violence and persecution worldwide. And, for as long as humans have existed, people have lived as nomads in various parts of the world, including Somalia, as detailed in Shugri Said ...
The Seven Sisters: How to Build an Old Girls' Network (08/21)
In Karin Tanabe's novel A Woman of Intelligence, some characters attend all-women's colleges. The narrator Katharina graduated from Vassar and another lead, Ava, graduated from Mount Holyoke. Katharina's occasional babysitter, Sarah Beach, studies at Barnard. These colleges and four other historically women's colleges — Bryn Mawr, ...
Subterranean London (08/21)
Louise Candlish's narrator in The Other Passenger, Jamie Buckby, suffers from tunnel phobia. It is this affliction that causes him to quit his professional occupation and work at a coffee shop. Jamie experiences London's subway system, known as the Tube, as a 'place with no escape routes' where 'bodies were crammed into every last column ...
Hakka Cuisine (08/21)
The Hakka are an ethnic minority of Han Chinese people who migrated out of the northern regions of China in waves taking place in the fourth and ninth centuries. Today, the largest populations of Hakka live in China's Guangdong Province (located in the southeast of China, near Hong Kong), and they have their own distinct language and ...
Cambodians in Stockton, California (08/21)
Several stories in Anthony Veasna So's short story collection Afterparties take place in Stockton, California, the author's hometown. Stockton is home to the fifth largest population of ethnically Cambodian people in the United States as of 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2018 study by U.S. News and World Report found ...
The Bolla in Albanian Folklore (08/21)
Pajtim Statovci's novel Bolla takes its name from a creature in Albanian folklore. The narrative is interspersed with a reimagined version of this feared monster's origins, with thematic parallels to his characters' lives that enhance the emotional impact of their story while commenting on the importance of storytelling as a means of ...
Ting Hua: Obedience and Filial Piety in Chinese American Parental Relationships (08/21)
Of all the demands made of Susie Yang's character Ivy in her debut novel White Ivy, few are more pernicious than the constant demand that she be ting hua, or a 'good' girl. For Ivy, to be ting hua means, more than anything else, obscuring her individuality and right to self-determination so that her family can see the version of her they ...
Artifacts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (08/21)
The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. embraces the rich history of slaves and their descendants. The museum opened in 2016, displaying thousands of artifacts illustrating the experience of the unfree, and the emancipated, including Ashley's Sack (which will be on display ...
A History of the Appalachian Region (08/21)
The Appalachian region of the United States (not to be confused with the entirety of the Appalachian Mountains, which extend into Canada) stretches over 1,000 miles from southern New York to northeastern Mississippi. A mountainous crossroads, the area is defined by disparities and variety in its history, economics and culture. Today, ...
The Musée Rodin (07/21)
Several important scenes in Louise Penny's mystery, All the Devils Are Here, take place in the gardens of the Musée Rodin. Located in Paris, just south of the River Seine and about a mile east of the Eiffel Tower, the museum and its grounds boast thousands of Auguste Rodin's sculptures, casts and drawings, as well as thousands of...
The Significance of Black Hair in the United States (06/21)
In her debut thriller, The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris includes but does not explain certain concepts linked to Black life. This may be an intentional choice to move past the expectation that racialized and other marginalized authors should clarify concepts and issues that aren't commonplace in mainstream white society for ...
Vietnamese Amerasians (06/21)
When U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, the 1.3 million lives lost would prove to be only the beginning of the war's lasting impact on both countries, especially for many of the children born in Vietnam amid the bloodshed.

Initially coined by Pearl S. Buck and later legitimized by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service...
Purim (06/21)
In The Book of V., Lily is a wife and mother living in modern-day Brooklyn and struggling to find her purpose in life. As she works to manage her relational roles, she is also working to understand her Jewish heritage and particularly the story of Esther, a young Jewish woman in ancient Persia who became queen and used her influence ...
Why Hindu Gods Have Multiple Arms (06/21)
While investigating a series of missing children taken from an unnamed Indian slum, Jai and his friends Pari and Faiz, the central protagonists in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, come across many pictures and iconography depicting Hindu gods. Here are some brief insights into the mythology surrounding a handful of these deities.

...
The Origins of Islam in Pakistan (06/21)
In Homeland Elegies, author Ayad Akhtar explores Pakistani characters' relationships to Islam. The roots of Islam in the area now known as Pakistan can be traced back almost as far as the birth of the religion itself. As early as the 7th century, Arab armies attempted to spread Islam to the Indian subcontinent, but it took centuries ...
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