The Shaman of Turtle Valley
Place Published: Braddock, PA
Publisher: Braddock Avenue Books
Date Published: May 2019
The author of the award-winning What the Zhang Boys Know (“…utterly beautiful and unforgettable”—Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang) now gives us a heart-rending first novel about love, displacement, and the powerful ghosts that haunt so many families.
The Alexanders have farmed the land in Turtle Valley for generations, and their family and its history is tied to this mountainous region of Virginia in ways few others can claim. When Gulf War veteran Aiken Alexander brings home a young and pregnant South Korean bride, he hopes at long last to claim his own place in that complicated history—coming out from behind the shadow of his tragically killed older brother and taking up a new place in his father’s affections. However, things do not go according to plan. While he loves his young son, his wife, Soon-hee, can’t—or won’t—adjust to life in America. Her behavior growing stranger and stranger to Aiken’s eyes every day until the marriage reaches a breaking point.
When Soon-hee disappears with their son, Aiken’s life and dreams truly fall apart—he loses his job, is compelled to return to the family home, and falls prey to all his worst impulses. It is at this low point that Aiken’s story becomes interwoven with a dubious Alexander family history, one that pitted brother against brother and now cousin against cousin, in a perfect storm of violence and dysfunction.
Drawing on Korean beliefs in spirits and shamanism, how Aiken solves these problems—both corporeal and spiritual—is at the center of this dynamic and beautifully written debut novel.
Praise for The Shaman of Turtle Valley:
With his first novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, Clifford Garstang has created a melding of two worlds he knows intimately, and he has done so with the outright surety of a master. Turtle Valley itself sits below the mountain ranges of Virginia, maybe, but the valleys at work in the hearts and minds of Mr. Garstang’s characters owe as much to the history and culture of Korea, that far-off land from which the novel’s protagonist brings his teenage bride. By using a series of short but fluid sections, moving about the world with ease, Mr. Garstang has given us a novel with the feel of something universal and, indeed, epic. Once you start it you won't be able to put it down.
—Richard Wiley, author of Soldiers In Hiding, winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Best American Fiction
In his excellent and deeply moving novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, Clifford Garstang has created a fine cast of characters, most notably the women surrounding his protagonist, Aiken. By inhabiting their voices and lives, showing their resilience and complexity, their precise, individual emotional terrains, he imbues the novel with a powerful undertow of empathy, alignment, and imaginative comprehension. This is a story about the many kinds of love—beautifully written, unerringly told.
—Kate Christensen, PEN/Faulkner-award winning author of The Great Man and The Last Cruise
When Aiken Alexander, a vet returning from Desert Storm, brings his young Korean shaman wife home with him to the Virginia mountains, he sets off a powerful cross-cultural collision. Garstang’s novel reads like a modern-day version of the Odyssey with a delicious twist: on his return to Ithaca, this Odysseus brings Circe with him.
—David Payne, author of Barefoot to Avalon
More praise for the works of Clifford Garstang:
In an Uncharted Country:
This collection delivers on its title: each story takes us into an area–emotional and geographic–that we may not have been before. There is an impressive variety here, and Garstang’s ability as a storyteller is on display each time. These characters are real, vulnerable, and always, in unique ways, brave.
—Elizabeth Strout, author of Pulitzer Prize-winner Olive Kitteridge
In an Uncharted Country is an impeccably written, sumptuously imagined, and completely enchanting book of stories, each with its own high ambitions, each successful both as prose and as story. Clifford Garstang is the real thing–a writer loaded with talent. And this book is a reminder of the delightful miracles a good story can perform in a reader’s heart.
—Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried and National Book Award-winner Going After Cacciato
In an Uncharted Country is a subtly braided collection of spare, taut stories that conjures a community and a way of life with respect, affection and intimacy. Clifford Garstang often captures his characters at sharp moments of loss, but it is their dogged perseverance in the face of those losses that makes these figures move us.
—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl and winner of the 2008 PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction
What the Zhang Boys Know:
Clifford Garstang presents one of the more memorable settings I’ve seen in any book, Nanking Mansion, a renovated tenement in D.C.’s Chinatown, filled with characters whose stories are more fantastic than they first appear. In prose that is measured and confident, he carefully works to show us how these characters’ grief and loneliness becomes unified by their collective setting to transform into something utterly beautiful and unforgettable. What a world Garstang has built for us, and how grateful I was to discover it.
—Kevin Wilson, author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth and New York Times Best Seller The Family Fang
What the Zhang Boys Know has a dozen chapters, each one a vivid short story in itself. Garstang makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in Washington, D.C’s Chinatown are told separately AND as part of a web of entanglements. The entrances and exits are handled with the deftness of a French comedy, but the empathy of the author brings all the characters achingly alive. What the Zhang Boys Know is a wonderful and haunting book.
—John Casey, author of Compass Rose and Spartina, winner of the National Book Award
A widower, a sculptor, a minor poet, an interior designer, and a painter are just a few of Clifford Garstang’s affecting characters, residents of Nanking Mansion, the setting for these deeply satisfying, life-affirming stories linked by neighborliness in a “not-quite-gentrified” neighborhood. Garstang’s characters strive to transcend “the deep quiet of absence” in the wake of all manner of devastations. They leave their doors unlocked, they console, they make room, they share what they have made of sorrow, so proving, as do these stories, the solace to be found in art.
—Christine Schutt, author of National Book Award-finalist Florida, and Pulitzer Prize-finalist All Souls
In the tradition of the best volumes of linked stories, from Susan Minot’s Monkeys and Rand Cooper’s The Last to Go to David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan, Clifford Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know traces a graceful arc, as the meanings and moments in the stories accrue. Garstang’s inventive and original writing, a beguiling invitation to myriad subplots and destinations, offers what every reader desires: a lucid and satisfying experience of literature.
—Katharine Weber, author of Triangle, True Confections, and The Memory Of All That
Nanking Mansion is the Winesburg,Ohio of the 21st century, and What the Zhang Boys Know is Garstang’s powerfully moving take on place, time, love, and what happens when strangers in a strange land pick community over difference. These stories wrap around one another, and the reader, in a big, warm, bracing human hug.
—Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle and This Bright River
Clifford Garstang is the author of the novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and the short story collection In an Uncharted Country. He is also the editor of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, a three-volume anthology of stories set around the world. A former Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea and an international lawyer, Garstang lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.