Excerpt: The Shaman of Turtle Valley by Clifford Garstang

About the Book:


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.

Read an Excerpt:

Featured In June/July 2019 Issue: Summer Reads

“The drought has scorched the hills, turning them the color of the desert. Everything looks thirsty and baked, worse than he’s ever seen. Even the evergreens that run the ridges are tinged with yellow. And in the middle distance, where the peaks of Brother Mountain nestle shoulder to shoulder like a camel’s humps, smoke rises from a fire that’s sure to spread. It’s what he smelled before, and now he can taste the bitterness. 

The load in the truck bed shifts again. In the rear-view mirror, Aiken sees something—a T-shirt, he thinks—flap loose and take flight, settling on the highway behind him. He doesn’t stop. He’s not far from the farm now.

Aiken’s marriage has always been a struggle, as if he and Soon-hee both knew from the beginning that it was a mistake. He’d married her because she was pregnant—the Army chaplain in Seoul said he’d seen it a thousand times—and she married him because her father had commanded it. That was an old story, too. 

At the time, Aiken thought their relationship might work out, impulsive or not, mistake or not. Unlike his older brother, who’d always seen gloom in every obstacle, Aiken expected tough knots to unravel, locked doors to open. But he hadn’t considered what would be best for Soon-hee. He admits that now, and it weighs on him. When her father brought her to the inn and left her with him, and when Aiken had abandoned the idea of an abortion, he thought of no other option but bringing Soon-hee home to Virginia. It was honorable. But was that the right choice? 

They’d lasted this long—four years, going on five—only because of Henry. Henry is everything. Aiken loves being a father, enjoys nothing more than sitting with his son, reading to him or telling him tales, folklore passed down from his own parents, or listening to the boy babble and sing, as if he’s telling his own stories. Aiken knows Soon-hee loves Henry, too. She tries her best with him, even if she doesn’t always know exactly how to ease a fever or calm an upset stomach. Instead of children’s Tylenol and damp, soothing towels, she chants over him, bangs pots and pans, brandishes a knife in the air above his head—until Aiken puts a stop to her nonsense. He tells her it’s only superstition, from her backward country, but she doesn’t listen.”

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