Expat and development worker Elizabeth Shick mines the six years (2013-2019) she spent living in Yangon, Myanmar, for The Golden Land, an insightful debut novel highlighting an extended Myanmar family scattered across East and West. Etta--a 30-something Boston labor lawyer raised mostly by her maternal Myanmar immigrant grandmother, who has recently died--is the story's linchpin. Parker, her younger sister, insists on returning Ahpwa's ashes to her homeland. Once there, Parker decides to stay in Myanmar, and concerned Etta follows. Looming over the sisters' return is a truncated family trip in 1988 after which their family irreversibly splintered. Myanmar's recent vicious, complicated politics provide the backdrop to significant discoveries--for both characters and readers.
Shick plays deftly with dual narratives over three parts: Part I introduces the characters in 2011 Boston, jumping back to 1988 Rangoon, Burma; Part II switches to 1988 Boston and later, alternating with 2011 Yangon, Myanmar (notice the name change for the same geographic location); Part III nimbly merges both timelines. "Writing... was a labor of love for my host country," Shick explains in her author's note, "undertaken in a spirit of respect and solidarity--my humble attempt to communicate the fascinating, cautionary history of Myanmar and the remarkable resilience and ingenuity of the Myanmar people." Shick's earnest esteem helps diminish the occasional first-book challenges of a narrative that repeats and drags; her protagonist's tedious and naïve self-absorption is tempered by more convincing fellow characters. Illuminating moments--puppetry, folklore, pivotal events, quotidian contemporary life--tilt Shick's fiction firmly toward respect and appreciation. --Terry Hong, BookDragon