Alex Kuo

Haven Books, 2011


Ge and G, mathematicians in northern China and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, respectively, navigate parallel academic paths at the beginning of this unique and challenging novel by WSU English professor Alex Kuo. The two characters don’t know each other, but their lives reflect a common experience over the course of 30 years.

The Chinese woman Ge and Chinese-American man G share a disgust for the emptiness of their teaching and the revolutions they witness from their academic institutions in the late 1960s — the Cultural Revolution for her and the official reaction to the civil rights movement for him.

Disillusioned, Ge joins the Three Gorges Dam project in southern China, and G takes a position with Westinghouse in Pennsylvania. Both soon begin to chafe at the corporate monoliths they are helping to build. For Ge, future sediment loads behind the huge dam being built on the Yangtze River represent a threat to history and human life, all in the name of progress.

G’s work at Westinghouse and his need to find his history drive him to explore the colonized and mythical American West, eventually leading him to the Grand Coulee Dam.

Don’t expect a formula to this fiction. This is not the standard mystery or vampire novel-by-numbers you might buy at the airport. Alex Kuo the storyteller and poet gradually inserts himself into the narrative, urging readers to rethink their suspension of reality required for the tale.

You can expect to start thinking. Through the text, even as the plot shifts and washes into a flood of ideas both absurd and unexpected, seemingly every page presents an interpretation of corporate, political, and cultural traits of the world and questions conventional understanding.

Kuo calls this a “mathematical novel,” and the purity of finite numbers within the fiction contrasts with the tricky and fluid nature of novelistic words, sentences, paragraphs. With a faith in those numbers and an understanding of the shadiness of words, the mathematicians in the novel and the writer Kuo take a stand against “The Man,” who dammed both the Yangtze and the Columbia.

Alex Kuo is writer-in-residence and a professor in English. He teaches creative writing, Native American literature, and western American culture.