I just finished a terrific novel, Su Sokol’s Cycling to Asylum (2014), described by the author as “the story of a family that flees a near-future New York City and crosses the border into Québec by bicycle to demand political asylum.” I’m going to be a bit lazy and let Su’s website synopsis do the work of describing its essence:
…[T]he novel is the story of a voyage, both an actual and personal/metaphorical one. This voyage is experienced differently by each protagonist and it is for this reason that it is told in alternating chapters, using the unique voice and perspective of each of the four main characters. These characters include Laek, a history teacher with a mysterious, radical past; Janie, an activist lawyer and musician; Siri, a tomboy with secrets; and Simon, a dreamy child addicted to violent screen games.
I’m pleased to report that Cycling for Asylum has drama and suspense, compelling characters sharing deep emotions, and a thought provoking political and social context, all sprinkled with clever detail and humor. I read the book slowly, over the course of many Boston subway rides. Its short chapters and compact, memorable story were perfect for that.
Concededly, I’m not an unbiased reader or reviewer. Su is a classmate of mine from NYU Law School, and many years ago she and her husband Glenn lived down the block from me in Brooklyn. During law school and throughout her career, Su has been a strong advocate for the disenfranchised and for social justice, a quality that informs her novel.
Su and I fell out of touch when I moved to Boston, but through Facebook we reconnected. I would learn that Su and Glenn moved their family from New York to Montreal about a decade ago. Earlier this year, Su was making a swing through the Boston area, and we enjoyed a delightful lunch along with her long-time friend (and book cover artist) Lin-Lin Mao. Here’s a photo that Lin-Lin took, with plenty of snow around us:
During lunch, Su told me how important this kind of writing has become to her. That care is evident in Cycling to Asylum, her first published novel. For me, reading it was a fun little revelation. I’d long admired Su’s commitment as a public interest lawyer, a job that often requires the skills of a good story teller to put a client or cause in a favorable light. But a strong knack for advocacy doesn’t make one a novelist, as the world is besieged with wannabe writers holding law degrees! In Su’s case, however, I found myself taken by her ability to create interesting characters and to tell a story.
I’m not a literary critic; I either like a book or I don’t. I really liked this one. While riding on Boston’s Orange Line, it drew me into another world of interesting people and times, a journey for which I am very thankful.