Apr 29, 2009

Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour stop for Eleanor Bluestein's Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales. Today, we have a bunch of things in store for you. After my review, please take a trip through Eleanor's writing space (complete with photos) and enter the giveaway for her short story book, Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales.

About the Book:

The ten stories in Tea and other Ayama Na Tales take place in the fictional country of Ayama Na, a small Southeast Asian nation recovering from a devastating internal coup and a long drought, both of which have left the population reeling.

The fictional country of Ayama Na is inspired by the sights and sounds of Southeast Asia. A street of fortune tellers in Ayama Na borrows details from one in Singapore; royal palaces, Buddha shrines, and hill tribes echo their counterparts in Thailand; sidewalk cafes in Ayama Na’s capital roll up corrugated metal exteriors and blare music to the street as they do in Viet Nam. But in emotional content and historical detail, Ayama Na most closely resembles Cambodia, where a brave young population, still rebuilding both country and culture in the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide, operates with a seriousness of purpose and good humor that fills the author of this collection with awe and admiration.

Bluestein's short stories read like morality plays in which flawed characters struggle with what actions will lead them on the right path and bring about justice. From the McDonald's worker, Mahala, who wants to set things right for her friend, co-worker, and fellow student, Raylee, to Dali-Roo, a down-on-his-luck farmer working at a Sony factory to make ends meet, Bluestein uses scene breaks to build tension and quicken the pace for some of her more ambitious story lines. She also does an excellent job of weaving in details of her fictional South Asian location, Ayama Na, including the setting, the language, and Asian mysticism.

"Home was a houseboat in a floating village not far from the mouth of the lake, a squalid kitchen and cramped bunk beds ruled over by a mother who hadn't attended school three days in her life, who worked morning to night cooking and mending nets for Song's father and brothers, whose stained and wrinkled hands smelled of shrimp and dried fish. The houseboat lapped up and down and moved in and out at the mercy of the weather, and in the dry season, it flowed with the whole floating village closer to the center of the lake, exposing garbage-strewn banks." ("Skin Deep," Page 77)

Readers will enjoy many of the stories in this volume, including "Skin Deep," in which a university student, Song, enters a beauty pageant and takes a year off from school. She has no talents to speak of, but eventually writes and recites three poems before the local judges and wins the competition. Once at the nationals, she concludes she needs a more dazzling talent and embarks upon a journey. She becomes an amateur ventriloquist. The scenes between Song and her mother are wrought with tension because Song is not fulfilling her destiny, and her automaton, Lulu, agrees. The final scene of this story drives the moral home and--like many of the other stories in this book--with a bang.

"While he waited for the artist to take a breath and notice him, Jackman studied the tiny iridescent beetle exploring the edge of Faraway's beard, the grime sloshing in the creases of his sweaty forehead, the shivers regularly shaking a body swaddled for a brisk fall Philadelphia day." ("The Artist's Story," Page 94)

Each of these stories highlights the struggles facing the people of Ayama Na, which may mirror the struggles of many emerging nations today, as they strive to hold onto their traditions in the face of modernization and globalization. In many cases the modern world is juxtaposed with the cultural norms of this fictional society, and almost all of the characters are faced with a moral dilemma. From the surprise endings in "Skin Deep" and "Pineapple Wars" to quieter changes in character in "The Artist's Story," Bluestein is a gifted storyteller who will have readers examining their own lives and learning how to integrate their own cultural roots into their modern lives. These stories also help us examine larger societal issues, like providing aid to devastated nations and cities like New Orleans and China and providing assistance to developing nations. Bluestein's short story collection showcases her talents, and the book will provide fodder for book club discussion.

Also Reviewed By:

The Bluestocking Society
Nerd’s Eye View
Lotus Reads
1979 Semi-finalist…
Ramya’s Bookshelf
Feminist Review
Trish’s Reading Nook
Everything Distils Into Reading
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?

About the Author:

Eleanor Bluestein grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and attended Tufts University. After graduating with a degree in biology, Eleanor taught science in public school, first in New York and then in Maryland.

For a decade, along with an early literary mentor, Mel Freilicher, Eleanor co-edited Crawl Out Your Window, a San Diego based journal featuring the work of local writers and artists.

Eleanor spent a year in Paris, France, writing fiction and studying French at the Alliance Fran├žaise. Later, she completed a Professional Certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language at U.C. San Diego. These experiences found their way into the novel Syntax, a current project.

I'd like for you to welcome Eleanor to Savvy Verse & Wit at its new domain.

Above my desk, on the wall to the right of my computer screen, there’s a framed collage created by Matt Foderer, an artist I worked with some years ago. Along with other writers, designers, artists, and computer programmers, Matt and I sat at cubicles in a vast office space, producing multimedia educational products. I wrote words; Matt did computer graphics to accompany the text.

We were as creative as we possibly could be, mindful of the kids who would use these instructional products. But Matt and I both wished we were somewhere else—he creating his own art in the studio behind his house, I at my computer in my narrow home office writing stories.

I have purchased several works of art from Matt—two oil paintings for my living room and the collage on the wall that you see in the photo of my office. I want to describe it to you a little more in words and tell you what it means to me. You can also see it in detail at Matt Forderer.

The collage is one in a series Matt calls “Typewriterheads.” In each work in this series, against some intriguing setting, Matt has placed a human figure who has an antique typewriter where his head should be. In the collage I own, standing with his back to the ocean, is a person I imagine to be a waiter, apron-clad, towel in his hands, an old Underwood for a head. To the waiter’s right a plane lands on the water, a goat on a rock rises from the ocean, and in the sky, looking for all the world like a flying saucer, a huge shell whirls against the clouds.

I bought this collage because, to me, it portrays the poignant life of a writer who needs to work for a living while his head teems with the fantastic stories he dreams of writing. And also because Matt’s collage represents what I aspire to in my own work. Like his art, I want my writing to be funny, smart, evocative, hyper-imaginative, a bit surreal, and poignant, all at the same time. That’s a tall order, and probably why there are so many pages on my cutting room floor.

I no longer live a “cubicle life.” I am fortunate. So many individual’s creative lives are limited or outright thwarted by poverty, illness, war, and the myriad other forms bad luck takes. So if I struggle to get the words on the page, if they fall short of what I hope for, if some days the delete key gets more pounding than any other, if I even think of forgetting how lucky I am, I can look up at my wall. There’s that waiter with his back to the ocean and the untyped words swirling in his funny old typewriter head, wishing he were me, sitting at my desk, making up stories.

Thank you so much Eleanor for an inspiring guest post! Now readers, if you would like to read Eleanor's short story collection, Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales, check out the giveaway details below.


This is open internationally.

1. Leave a comment on this post about what you enjoyed most about this tour stop or what inspires you as a writer.

2. Spread the word about this giveaway and leave me a link on this post for a second entry.

3. Become a follower and leave me a comment telling me that you did (If you already do follow me, please leave me a comment about that) for a third entry.

Deadline is May 6, 2009; 11:59PM EST

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Wednesday, April 1st: The Bluestocking Society

Monday, April 6th: Bookstack

Thursday, April 9th: Nerd’s Eye View

Friday, April 10th: Lotus Reads

Monday, April 13th: 8Asians

Wednesday, April 15th: 1979 Semi-finalist…

Friday, April 17th: Ramya’s Bookshelf

Monday, April 20th: Feminist Review

Thursday, April 23rd: Trish’s Reading Nook

Tuesday, April 28th: Medieval Bookworm

Wednesday, April 29th: Savvy Verse and Wit

*** Giveaway Reminders***

There's a giveaway for 5 copies of Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch, here; deadline is April 29, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

A giveaway of The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady, here; Deadline is May 1
11:59 PM EST

5 Joanna Scott, author of Follow Me, books giveaway, here; Deadline May 4, 11:59 PM EST.


violetcrush said...

I don't understand much about art, but the way Eleanor has described the collage sounds really interesting to me. If you put it the way Eleanor says I guess I am fortunate to not live a cubicle life either :)

Thanks for the review and guest post Serena. Please do enter me. I really loved this, as you said, inspiring guest post.
I already follow you.

elizascott2005 at yahoo dot co dot in

Sandy Nawrot said...

Now THAT is a full post! It has everything I could want! I always enjoy seeing where an author works, and their surroundings that inspire them. I love that picture! Please enter me in this giveaway! rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com

Nicole said...

I really enjoyed your descriptions of the short stories. I think it would be interesting to read 10 stories from one setting and seeing how that differs from a novel.

It's cool to hear about what inspires someone. I wish I had a collage like the one described!

nbbaker1102 at optonline dot net

Anna said...

What a great post! I especially enjoyed the author's description of the collage and what it means to her. I so wish I could get out of the cubicle! :)

I posted this in my sidebar. You know how to find me. :)

Diary of an Eccentric

Eleanor said...

Thank you Violetcrush, Sandy, and Nicole. I absolutely loved writing this guest post and I'm so glad you liked it. You can see the other collages in Matt's typewriterhead series at the website Serena provides. This is my lost stop on the TLC tour and I can't thank you enough, Serena, for this great presentation of the book and guest post. What a great way for me to finish up!

Serena said...

Eleanor: Thanks so much for stopping by your final tour stop. I worked really hard on this review and the set up. I'm glad you are pleased. I really loved this book. And your guest post ROCKED!

Bridget said...

Just posted this on Win A Book. No need to enter me.

Amanda said...

I first read about this book on Trish's Reading Nook last week and it sounds really good. I'd love to be entered for the contest. I'm already a follower, too.

amandagignac [at] gmail [dot] com

claire said...

I'm originally from Southeast Asia so I would really really love to win this. It's rare having books written about that part of the world. Thanks for the giveaway!

dreamsongpoem at gmail dot com

LisaMM said...

What an excellent post! I loved reading Eleanor's thoughts about the collage and the meaning she gave to it. Very inspiring.

Amber said...

Please enter me - I love the description of this book, how it is a fictional country, but definitely based on real countries and real events in South East Asian history. Very Model United Nations-esque.
Thanks for the giveaway :)

Janel said...

Eleanor is lucky to have found a work of art that inspires her so much. The fact that it was made by a friend is even better and makes it all that much more special. Great post! So, please enter me.

I am already a follower.

I listed this in my right sidebar at:


naida said...

great post, this sounds like an interesting book.
its always fun reading a bit more about the atuhor behind the book.

I didnt know you got a dot.com serena, good for you! how very professional :)

Rebecca :) said...

Oh I just read about this book on Trish's blog. I am falling in love with it now that I have read your post, too! Books about different cultures are huge draws to me and the fact that they are short stories SO appeals to my ADD self. lol.

I love hearing about how the collage inspired Bluestein. I like hearing how writers are inspired to write what they write.

I would love to win this book, Serena. I already follow you and I am going to tweet about this giveaway, too. Yay!

Rebecca :) said...

I tweeted the giveaway. Here is the link to my twitter page: http://twitter.com/imlostinbooks.

Llehn said...

Thanks for the interview! For me, art inspires art, so I get inspired by a painting, a movie, a great song, etc ....

Lenore said...

I've travelled quite a bit in Southeast Asia, so this collection sounds fascinating to me!

Eleanor said...

Thanks again to you all for your interest in the book and for your enthusiasm for the guest post. I'd love to know what you all think of the book if you do read it. Claire--as a Southeast Asian by origin--does it ring true to you? Ditto Lenore who's traveled there.

I like that model U.N.-esque phrase, Amber. Rebecca, thanks for "falling in love" and for the tweet! Llehn--museums are high on my inspiration list and like you, I believe art inspires art.

Serena said...

I hope you all will take the time read Eleanor's book and review it even if you don't win the copy up for grabs.

Ladytink_534 said...

I just love this cover. Wow, could you imagine living on a houseboat? Not fun! Love the workspace :)

darbyscloset said...

I love her admiration to her past coworker and she descibes the picture to the "T"!! I would love to read her book of day dreams!
Thanks so much
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

S.M.D. said...

I'm actually most inspired as a writer by the public bus. I know it sounds weird, but I recommend anyone looking for interesting characters to spend about a month riding the same bus, at least a few times a week. I live in Santa Cruz, so the bizarre characters are all over the place, and I swear my fiction has improved tenfold as a result. I have entire stories dedicated to experiences I've had on the bus...

I blogged about this contest here: http://wisb.blogspot.com/2009/04/sff-links-early-may-batch.html

Email is: arconna @ yahoo dot com

Valorie said...

I am inspired by art and dreams. :D

Blogged: http://www.morbid-romantic.net/2009/04/28/book-giveaways-0427-0503/

And I am a subscriber.


Teddy Rose said...

I loved your review Serena. You really give a good description of what the short stories are about. I also loved the picture of Eleanor's workspace.

Eleanor and to all who see this comment, please keep you mouse close enough to you so that your arm is at a right angle. This is suppose to help prevent tennis elbow. ( I learned the hard way). The are also special mouse's available to help.

I blogged about your giveaway here:


I subscribe via Google Reader.

Blodeuedd said...

Nice interview and the book sounds lovely :)

I am not a real writer but i have been writing on this fantasy series for years, and anything and everything can inspire me. A sound, a word, a sight, I never know

blodeuedd1 (at) gmail (dot) com

Chris said...

I love the photos of the home office - I wish I had a home office at all, much less one that lovely!


Nyuel said...

I loved reading this eye-opening interview, although I must say that I really enjoyed the pictures of Eleanor's work area. For some reason, I'm curious about those things. Her work space is so neat and clean...maybe if I clean mine, I'll get something done. Please enter me, and thanks for this great giveaway!


babygirlG said...

As a writer, I am inspired by everything around me. I only have to open my eyes to the beauty in the world.


quelleheure4 said...

I love how you coupled the review with a look at a writer's workspace.

quelleheure4 said...

I'm a follower.

Melanie said...

What a fascinating angle for the guest post! So intriguing to see a writer's workspace, and the art which inspires her. You've really made want to search out this book.

gautami tripathy said...

I liked the stories. As as Asian I could even relate to a few of those. That good yes. The dilemma, the problems are all universal.

I linked your review with mine. Here is my review:

Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales