From Publishers Weekly
A crotchety old Chinese-American man sweeps up brilliant pink blossoms as cats weave about his skinny legs, and dreams of a dance with a Honduran lady in white keds; a middle-aged farmer fights the onslaught of what passes for progress and examines what may be the end of his marriage; a young woman of color examines her past and seeks to capture the sad music of the Delta on film; a young Mauritanian man, freely come to Mississippi from Africa, finds both wonder and confusion in this loud, bright new land, as he longs after an old steel guitar in a pawn-shop window and falls further in love with the blues of the American kaffir. A no-longer-so-young mother fights her sense of invisibility in her family's life and is suddenly visible to someone forbidden. The damaged, fey Bebe Marie crafts her birdhouses of bottlecaps and fills her crumbling walls with images and poetry: "This is the orchard of abandoned dreams." Weaving it all together is music: the blues, jazz, the river of sound and emotion whose current flows worldwide, with unexpected effect. Shearer (The Wonder Book of the Air) has crafted a lyrical, floating world of an imagined Delta town that could not and does not exist, but perhaps should. Her touching characters and the beauty of her language overshadow any issue of pacing or self-conscious preciousness that threaten it, often rising to the level of prose poetry. A must for readers of modern serious fiction; a joy to the ear; a return to beauty in literature; it needs only a true spiritual dimension to achieve greatness.
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Sooner or later everyone around Madagascar, Mississippi, comes to the Celestial Grocery, run by Angus Chien, a second-generation Chinese man. The centerpiece of the grocery is the jukebox, never updated or repaired since its installation in 1938. Angus keeps coins on top of the machine to use, because you can press the button but you don't always get what you ask for. The various characters, whose stories eventually include a trip to the grocery, are used to disappointments. Boubacar, "fresh off the boat" from Mauritania, learns that America means "being enriched and robbed at the same time." Raine learns that the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood is not always so perfect. And Angus learns that there is more than one way to break a heart. The thread that holds all these people together is the music of Slim Harpo, Son House, Sol Hoopii, and Bob Dylan. Shearer (The Wonder Book of Air
, 1997) has created nothing less than a gem in this tale of intertwining destinies. Elizabeth DickieCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved