Monday, April 07, 2008

When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon

By Chris Tsubamoto

Frances Park's excellent novel follows the lives of two Korean sisters, different in both mind and heart.

Author: Frances Park
Miramax Books, 276 pages

I can pretty much sum up this book in five words… “It’s good… it’s damn good.”

I don’t have much free time nowadays, but you know something is right when you sit down on page one with a Snapple in hand and you don’t get up until you’ve finished the entire book and there’s 4 empty Snapple bottles spinning on their axis next to you. Not to mention all the Chicken In A Biscuit crumbs resting precariously on my shirt. “When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon” is like Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop.

The book is total chick flick material… it revolves around the lives of two sisters, both in the present and past tense when they were growing up together in Washington D.C. in the 1970’s. First there’s Cleo, or Kisook Moon, the knockout hottie that gets through life on looks alone. She’s gorgeous, wild, rebellious and just out to have a good time, evident by the number of guys knockin her up throughout the book. Then there’s her younger sister Marcy, or Misook Moon, your typical Plain Jane. She grew up in awe of her sister’s beauty, her popularity, and wanted nothing more in life than to be just like her.

As the two grew older, their lives took much different paths. Cleo kept on her materialistic ways, marrying a wealthy man and parlaying that wealth into a million dollar bottled sauce company. Marcy instead chose to live in the Nevada desert, selling White Sky Indian trinkets and living off bland soups and the Earth. You’d think these two have nothing in common, when in fact they do… they’re love for their father.

Now to go into detail anymore would give away the best parts of the book, but hear me now and understand me later, this is a good fricking book. The dynamic between the two sisters is fantastic! Although Cleo is an open-legged slut, she does her best to shield Marcy from the drugs, alcohol, and sex that are abundant in her life. Conversely, Marcy wants nothing more than to be like her sister Cleo… the beautiful girl that any man would die for. Not sure if all women experience this sort of dynamic in their lives, be it sister, friend, or whatever, but it sure does make for some interesting drama.

So me says… this book is excellent and I highly recommend it to both the XX and the XY species. The author, Frances Park, has put in all kinds of little goodies inside that I haven’t even touched upon, and it’s all those micro-elements that meld together to make “When My Sister Was Cleopatra Moon” an awesome experience. At 276 pages, it’s a quick read and you can finish it easily in one night. And to tempt you all a little bit further… here’s an excerpt from the book…

Cleo frowns. My bare-bones living makes no sense. No money. No man. Pablo doesn’t count: he’s blind in one eye - a freak. No plans to create a sauce a minute. How appalling. We don’t shoot for the same stars. How could we be sisters?

Pablo and I like modest living; it grounds us to our purpose. We fix up a big pot of soup Sunday night and it lasts all week. The potatoes soak up the broth, and by Wednesday it’s stew. To Cleo, it’s the same old soup.

A candle burns between us in memory of Stu. No sad ceremony here. Cleo’s face grows radiant. Between bites, she says, “So you’re still at that thrift shop, what’s it called?”

“Cactus Bear,” I reply, “and it’s not a thrift shop. I mean, we don’t sell junk.”

“But some of the things you sell are used.” She shudders.

“Yes, but we like to call it hand-to-heart art.”

“Do they pay you enough?”

“Actually, no one pays us. We work for food, shelter, and the knowledge that we’re helping others.”

“So what do you live on?”


She groans. “I honestly don’t get it, Marcy. You could have been anything you wanted to be. What the hell happened? Why do you live on soup?”

“I love soup.”

“Look, at least I can admit I was a drifter who was looking to land happiness and got lucky. But you, you were a phenom. You could juggle a dozen books at once. You aspired!”

I correct her. “You aspired for me.”

She thoroughly doubts me. “Did I?”

Once we were so close our flames burned as one. Now no more. Cleo put us out. Except for a few scattered letters and phone calls, she was not in touch for years. No wonder our touch today is cool. Yes, her husband is dead but I barely knew him, might not recognize him in a crowd. So why did she plead with me to come here? And why did I come? 

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