Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

"..he had a dreaminess to his eyes as well, as if he were somehow fundamentally unmoored from the world, perpetually startled by its sharp edges and small cruelties."

'The Chosen and the Beautiful' by Nghi Vo is a faithful re-telling of The Great Gatsby, wrapped lovingly.. and perhaps a little obsessively, within the cool contours of magical realism.

Though I normally like my re-tellings to vary enough that they can be difficult to recognize at first glance, this one is so full of interesting, creative magical elements and interpersonal nuances that I think varying from the original tale too much would have done it a disservice.

Told from the perspective of Jordan Baker, a queer adoptee originally from Tonkin/Vietnam by a wealthy white family, she has access to social tiers others would not have in the 1920's. She's free-spirited and has the money to pretty much do whatever she likes with her time and that just so happens to mean lots of exclusive parties. While it seems she has everything, she's still treated as an almost collectible oddity by her peers and the most important things remain behind sealed doors for her.

"..soul gone and some terrible engine he called love driving him now, I could see that for him, the world was always ending. For him, it was all a wreck and a ruin, and he had no idea why the rest of us weren't screaming."

Gatsby and Daisy, Nick and Tom, even the Wilsons are all still present here. Yet some of the dynamics have changed, modernizing the feel of the atmosphere. I enjoyed the way the reveal at the end was tucked away, marked only by character reactions and small side comments.. never directly addressed. At first pass, the scene just feels a bit off.. like there's something that doesn't quite make sense.. and then it does.

Tinged with Faustian themes, the author gives us a much more visually vibrant world, however. The magic is otherworldly.. life seemingly made of paper, ghosts sharing space with the living, and all sorts of other intrigues.

I loved the infernal twist on the bootlegging business and really enjoyed the way obsession was explored. It went far beyond just two people in this telling and became more of a spiral of obsession instead.. with one always drawn inexorably toward another until all were essentially connected. At times, the book reads like a fever dream.. and disoriented, you wonder if that's real or if it's the character being affected.

"She was half out of her robe like a snowdrop unsheathed after the winter, fragile and more than a little raw."

Vo is a beautifully lyrical writer who does an excellent job of creating an underlying premonition of dread while dazzling the reader with exuberant scenes and imaginative illusions. If you like a bit of mystery or a sense of fatalism in your stories, read this book. I promise you will not make it all the way through without finding at least one surprise waiting.

Was this review helpful?

A smart, dazzling reimagining of a classic! So enjoyed the new aspects that Vo brought to this story - breathing life into side characters, adding in LGBTQIA representation and BIPOC representation as well. The fantastical, magical aspects of this retelling made it even more intriguing and entertaining. Loved the layers that Vo peeled back beneath all the glitz and glam.

Was this review helpful?

I was drawn in initially to The Chosen and the Beautiful as a queer, Asian, and magic-filled retelling of The Great Gatsby. My expectations were definitely met, the writing is really beautiful and atmospheric. I think I would have liked this more if I actually liked The Great Gatsby itself more - it's been over a decade since I last read it and I'd say I like this retelling better. I can't say I really 'enjoyed' the book though, since the overall plot, and even specific scenes, stays very close and true to the source. I knew what would happen, making it a bit of a slow read for me. I also can't decide if I liked the supernatural elements. Though the magic was unique in adding something special to Vo's reimagining, it seemed confusing at times and probably warranted a bit more depth.

Was this review helpful?

You may have seen the news that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald officially entered the public domain this year, so creators are free to take the concept and run with it. Vo has chosen to center her version around Jordan Baker, who in The Chosen in the Beautiful is Vietnamese – stolen from her birth family by a wealthy white woman and brought back to the United States – and queer. In fact, pretty much everyone in this book is queer (except, presumably, Tom).

I read The Great Gatsby in college, and while I don’t consider it one of my favorite books of all time, it was one of the few books that I didn’t sell back at the end of the quarter. (Selling back novels would basically net me, like, a quarter, but oftentimes I just wanted to be rid of the books I’d been forced to read for my English major.) I do enjoy the story, but I’m not opposed to seeing how other people interpret it.

When I say this is a Gatsby retelling, I’m serious. Things play out exactly the same way they do in the original, it’s just this time we’re getting things the way Jordan sees them. I very much love the decision to make Jordan Asian, because it drastically reforms her character. (Although, let’s face it, there wasn’t much to her to start.) She is an anomaly in this world; raised by a wealthy, white family in Louisville, she never truly belonged within the society she was brought up in. She is always seen as “other”, even before adding in the fact that she’s queer. It’s something of which she’s always aware. And then she meets Khai at one of Gatsby’s parties, and he invites her to an event in Chinatown where she discovers she also doesn’t belong among her own people.

This book is atmospheric; it’s ethereal. I think it tells Gatsby better than Fitzgerald did, because Vo absolutely nails the dreamlike, enchanted quality of the whirlwind life of Gatsby, Daisy, and the others while managing to be far less pretentious. Flashbacks from Jordan and Daisy’s childhood are peppered throughout, to give you a sense of the friendship these two women have, and why they have remained friends for so long. And while it at certain points does seem to drown in opulence, it doesn’t shy away from showing the less than glamorous parts of the 1920s.

There is an element of magic to this book that I felt was underutilized. It’s a constant presence, but mostly in the background – references to people selling their souls, special clubs that only appear if you know the password, things like that. Jordan has a particular ability that is quite fascinating and is shown a few times but that doesn’t really come into play until the ending. I am always a fan of adding magic to a story, but I rather wish this had been woven into the narrative a bit more. This is a straight retelling, so the fantastical elements have no affect on what happens. I think I would have preferred it if they did.

Much of The Chosen and the Beautiful meanders in a hazy, trance-like way, through various flashbacks and Gatsby parties and Jordan going out on the town. The ending is mostly not a shock – at least if you’ve already read The Great Gatsby – but there was still a particular moment where I was completely surprised at the direction in which Vo took the characters. I liked it, but I thought it kind of came out of nowhere. Perhaps I need to reread and see if there were clues I missed.

If you’ve never read The Great Gatsby, and even if you have, I highly recommend this book. The writing is beautiful, and the characters are far more compelling in this version than in the original.

Was this review helpful?

I went into this book with few expectations and even fewer memories of just what happens in The Great Gatsby! I', delighted to say that I had a wondrous time reading this and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone wanting to add a different aspect to the original.
I have to say I have absolutely no idea how it would feel to read with with *no* understanding of the original, but I can imagine it would still be a good book but perhaps a little lighter? Part of the thing that makes this book feel special is that insight into another aspect of a familiar story, exploring what stays the same and what is different.

I can't talk about differences without considering the magical aspect. I can see how some might be disappointed that there isn't *more* fantasy in this book but for my part I think it still works to have this lighter magical element. I thought that the way that added to the idea of this glamorous, wealthy lifestyle as a fantasy in and of itself.

The real shining star of this book is the writing. While nothing feels overwritten it still feels as though care and consideration has been taken over ever sentence, with a few of them stopping me in my tracks to message them to the friend with whom I was buddy reading - and that is something that pretty much never happens to me!

While I don't know that I would recommend this to anyone and everyone I nonetheless think this is a truly special book that many people will read and love. Whether you're a die hard fan of the original of if you've had the love for the book pummelled out of you by having the misfortune of having to study it I think it's a fresh take on the story that captures the essence of the familiar while expanding some of the ideas.
I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Yes! It's another novel by Nghi Vo, and I could not be more excited about that fact! The Chosen and the Beautiful is her first full novel, following novellas like When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.

Are you ready for a coming-of-age story that blends genres, the concept of the American dream, and so much more? Jordan Baker is, all things considered, a lucky woman. She lives in the 1920s and was adopted by a wealthy family that saw her through good schools.

Only, she knows that she is treated differently in this society. She's seen as more 'exotic' and outside of them, rather than just another member of the community. This probably has to do with the fact that she is adopted, Asian, and queer.

Oh! Did I mention that The Chosen and the Beautiful is essentially a Great Gatsby telling, but with a lot more flare? Yeah. Worth checking out, right?

“It was after midnight with that tired charm that all parties on the downturn acquire.”

If you're looking for the most creative retelling of the year, I have news for you. The Chosen and the Beautiful is simultaneously exactly and nothing like The Great Gatsby. In many ways, I found it to be a significant improvement on the original. Yes, I said it.

I love how Nghi Vo picked such a classic piece of literature in order to tell her story. It was a choice that can resonate with many people and help to forge a real connection to the character and her struggles.

In short, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a fantastic read, one that I did not regret in the least. If anything, my only regret is that I couldn't have read this novel while growing up, but that's life, right?

Was this review helpful?

This book lands at a 2.5/5 stars, rounded up to 3. There are many elements of this novel that I whole-heartedly applaud and fully support -- Asian main character; LGBTQ Asian main character; magicky bits. However, I really really underestimated a baseline requirement to really like F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" in order to really be into this book. Having been an English major as a college undergrad, I had to read "The Great Gatsby" ultimately 3-4 times between high school and college. And, while I appreciate it's place in the literary canon, I really came to not like it so much. This personal opinion brings me to this new re-envisioning of "The Great Gatsby" by Nghi Vo. While, again, I liked various elements, and the writing is really lovely, I just didn't like the book. I found it boring, plodding, and just not my thing. I was also really confused by the magic - like, was it real or just symbolic for other stuff? Are they really drinking demon blood, and, uh, why? Also, the chapter time transitions were utterly without any hint of when the chapter was taking place, so I was super confused a lot - are we at the same party? a new party? is this before Gatsby went to war, or after? Is this Jordan as a teenager or as a full adult? It got to the point that I just didn't feel compelled to keep figuring it out.

But, I love the cover, and I love the idea, just not the execution of the plot itself.

Was this review helpful?

I was intrigued by this book because the premise of a retelling of the Great Gatsby with a queer Asian main character combined with the fact that it also includes magic sounded really interesting to me.
I had also hoped that this book would make me like the original characters more. Because one thing I remember from reading the original book and from watching the movie was, that I found most characters to be sort of unlikable. They were complex characters with flaws but I still found myself slightly annoyed by them and unfortunately the same thing happened with this book.

While I loved Jordan Baker as a character - queer, Asian, a magician, female and somewhat of an outcast in society - I also found her to be annoying and unlikable at times. Sometimes I wanted to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake.
What I highly appreciated though was the fact that Jordan is an outspoken woman who takes what she wants and pursues whoever she wants without caring about anyone's opinion. She certainly is a great female character, even if I didn't always like her.

Most of the story seemed very familiar (but it's a retelling after all) but with enough new facets added to it, so it was still a new experience and even surprised me sometimes.

I also really liked the magical aspect of the book even if most of it was largely unexplained, and I wish there would have been a more elaborate exposition. I wanted to learn more about this magic and its sources, but unfortunately we didn't really get a lot of information about that.

One thing that bothered me about this book was the pacing. The first 50% (ish) felt really slow. I found that I could only ever read a single chapter or maybe two before I had to put the book down. My mind just kept wandering and I found it hard to really find the motivation to pick it up again. Luckily the last 50% were a lot faster paced in my opinion and I read most of it in one sitting.

Was this review helpful?

Though she thinks the name “hangs oddly” upon her, Jordan grows up as a Louisville Baker. It is a name that gives her wealth and access to society. Daisy is a part of that society and the two form a bond over a bit of paper magic. Though time and distance change how close Jordan and Daisy feel, they are not enough to sever their connection entirely. Perhaps this fond recollection of her childhood friend makes Jordan amenable to spending much of the summer of 1922 in Daisy’s company. Jordan gets far more than she bargained for, however, when she gets tangled up in the affairs of Daisy’s neighbor—a supremely wealthy man named Jay Gatsby.

It was just a party, albeit a fabulously well turned out one, where Jordan meets Nick Carraway. He seems dull and overly attached to his midwestern roots for the cosmopolitan Jordan, but something about him draws her to him. And through him, to Gatsby as well. The latter sees Nick and Jordan as a means to bring Daisy to him. Despite initial misgivings, Jordan agrees to help. She might actually end up falling for Nick in the process. Except, of course, for the way Nick and Gatsby seem drawn together like magnets, the fact that Daisy is married, and the fact that Gatsby has literally struck the worst kind of deal just to make him a man materially worthy of a socialite. With her social world beginning to rip apart at the seams, there is a growing political movement across the country that just may drive Jordan to leave it all behind.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo is a retelling of The Great Gatsby. The time and place, 1920s New York, as well as the main and supporting characters all recall the classic tale of love turned obsession and the barriers even the wealthiest class faces. The narration, however, has shifted away from Nick and falls upon Jordan. In Vo’s story, Jordan came to be in America thanks to a couple of missionaries who, as was explained to Jordan, “rescued” her from Vietnam. Through Jordan, the story is reimagined with two rich themes not present (to the best of my fuzzy recollection) in the original. The first was magic and the second was race relations.

The theme of magic was delightfully subtle to me. At first, I just accepted the seemingly fantastical as a stylistic device. What turned out to be literal magic has the quality of superb creative license in the prose. Yet as I read further, I gradually came to appreciate that the book contains an undeniable element of the paranormal. The ghosts Jordan mentions in the Baker home are actual ghosts. The way a paper cut out of a dragon ferociously dive-bombs Jordan is a real threat to her. Magic seemed to permeate the world and I was delighted with how it shot through the story, sometimes just a fact of the world, sometimes on stunning display. The book’s signature liqueur—demoniac—is much the same. It is introduced early on and in a wholly blase manner. The drink has infernal origins that foreshadow a bigger connection to the plot. Unlike the ubiquitous libation the characters frequently imbibe, this twist in the plot leaves plenty of room for readers to interpret it in different ways.

Race issues also filter through the text. There is the tenuous relationship Jordan has with immediate members of the family that “adopted” her from Vietnam. Her adoptive father seems to often point out that he doesn’t blame Jordan for the fact that his wife (Jordan’s adoptive mother) died soon after their mission to Vietnam ended…as if a mere toddler could somehow have any blame. Daisy’s husband also rails against non-caucasian people and their values being chipped away. But more than any individual characters, the idea of racism takes on a more sinister quality towards the end of the book in the form of the Manchester Act, an exclusionary law. This spectre of legal discrimination gets raised only towards the end, but I thought it dovetailed with the tragic end of the classic Gatsby tale marvelously well. It seems odd, but I thought this displacement might be a chance for Jordan to regroup after having two significant relationships in her life basically terminated.

Finally, I would say Vo did a lovely job picking and choosing who, how, where, and when to show off the queerness of the cast. Jordan comes across as clearly bisexual; her off-page dalliances and intrigues seem to feature women, but she warms up to Nick in such a bittersweet way. When Nick and Gatsby are introduced basically at the same time at one of Gatsby’s party, I started carrying a little torch for them. The details of their romantic and/or sexual connection are both overt (i.e. you know they have sex) and covert (why are they sexually involved and how involved are they really).

Overall, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning story. Fans of the original will surely be pleased with this retelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the paranormal elements. I also rather liked how the narrator in this retelling feels so much more integral to the action than I remember the narrator being in the original. Jordan is very much a part of the action—she is the center of it all, really. The intrigue Gatsby represents, the romance Nick seems to offer, the hedonism Daisy brings all show us different aspects of the complex and enjoyable lead character that Jordan is.

Was this review helpful?

There’s a certain expectation with a reimagining, especially of a classic that is well loved, to hold true to the awe and love for the original while also bringing forth something of an elaborate uniqueness that sets it apart from that original.... The Chosen and the Beautiful faaaaaar exceeded that expectation for me. I genuinely don’t think I took a single breath from the moment I started until the moment I finished in complete and utter wonderment.

If you were to ever read a Great Gatsby retelling (reimagining in this case) then let it be this one. While I thoroughly loved The Great Gatsby, in all honesty the ideologies that it represents are predominantly meant for the American people that ‘matter’, who at the time, meant white Americans (Tom and Daisy in this book are perfect representation of that). I’m sure for many of us, myself included, to truly connect with a classic such as The Great Gatsby in this time and age that it was written, is difficult because of the lack of inclusion and acknowledgement of the prejudice that was present in the 1920s. But that is different in this book. Vo flawlessly exposes so much of what was wrong of the time period and brings forth The Great Gatsby that should have been written with a very real look at racism, sexuality, mental health and so much more.

Not to mention the magical aspects of the novel which bring more depth not just to the the story but to the characters as well. I think what Fitzgerald originally created and symbolized with these characters is tenfold here given their uniqueness, especially with the twist at the end.

1000/10 would recommend and I can already tell I’ll be rereading this one again very soon!

Was this review helpful?

Nghi Vo is such a talented author, and I have given both of Vo’s previous novellas five stars. The first thing that drew me in to this book, other than Vo’s name, was the beautiful cover and the fact that it was LGBT. That already had me sold, but finding out it was a retelling of The Great Gatsby? Sign me UP. Where I feel the downfall of some people’s reading experience was studying this at school for exams, I think that was one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so muck. Being such a close reimagining took some of the tension away as I knew plot points, dialogue and symbolism inside out, however I really enjoyed seeing the story in a different light.

Was this review helpful?

Delighted to include it in the June instalment of Novel Encounters, my column highlighting the month's top fiction for Zed, Zoomer magazine’s reading and books section (full review and feature at link).

Was this review helpful?

I picked up this book hoping that it would cure me of my dislike of Great Gatsby to read a similar story told by a voice and characters I hold much more interest for. I did not finish the book because it seems my distaste is for any story set in this period that centers itself on the wealthy and upper class rather than the people who labored to make their lives so gilded.

Was this review helpful?

This was another book that I think the hype may have ruined for me -- the promised elements just didn't coalesce into the finished product I'd envisioned. I had hoped for more of a reimagining of the Gatsby story (i.e. what was happening off-camera from the original text) but what we got was a pretty one-to-one retelling. I agree with other reviewers that the writing style was beautiful and the story was what Gatsby /should/ have been, but I was hoping for more additions and less revisiting. Also, the queer elements were really not explored at all, and while they were more explicit than the original text, there wasn't really any examination of the role of queerness in the story.

Was this review helpful?

My Review:⭐️⭐⭐.5/ 5 stars

First of all, Great Gatsby retelling with a Vietnamese, queer woman as the main character = must read. As a Vietnamese woman myself, I was so happy to see representation in one of my favorite books of all time. Vo writes so beautifully - and you are immediately sucked into the world of the dazzling 20’s. I always was interested in learning more about Daisy Buchanan and how she was brought up - and this helped give a peek into her personality. The only issue for me was the random magic/alchemy that would just pop up throughout the book without much explanation. I understand it’s supposed to be a bit more subtle, but it felt almost a bit out of place. Also, the ending was not expected and not sure how I feel about it yet. Overall, the book is a must read for Gatsby lovers and I am so glad I read it!

Thank you to Tor Books and NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. US Pub Date: June 1, 2021!

Was this review helpful?

I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I have not returned to it since. I have read retellings before, but this was probably my first retelling of such a famous and contemporary novel like The Great Gatsby. I was a little surprised at how many similarities there were in the plot.

Overall, I thought the things that made this different from the source material were my favorite. The book seemed to drag on for quite a bit of time before I felt captivated by the retelling. It was about 65% of the way through when I truly became engaged in the story. I thought Jordan was a fascinating character, and I wish we could have just heard her story and really understand her without any association with Jay, Nick, or Daisy. I’m not sure that those relationships were vital to the development of Jordan as the protagonist.

Some magical elements don’t come into the story until more than halfway through. And even then, it is so sparse and left as such an afterthought that I’m not sure that I understand how the magic works. For example, I loved the idea of Jordan meeting some people like her, but the whole scene happened so fast that I was left very underwhelmed. We also know that there is some demon blood magic and ghosts, but I don’t exactly understand how that all works.

The writing was exceptional, and I thought that Nghi Vo elevated the original work, but I am still left wondering why this book is necessary? I am not sure what the point of the book and why we needed it.

Was this review helpful?

THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL by Nghi Vo is a retelling of The Great Gatsby with a queer Asian American woman named Jordan as the main character. The writing is good as it kept me reading but I didn’t care for the storyline. It felt as if everything was happening around Jordan and she wasn’t even the focal point of the story. It was all about Daisy and Gatsby and Jordan was just there to witness it and tell their story from her sideline perspective. I really appreciated the diversity of her characterization and loved the setting of New York in 1922. There were some touches of magic that were interesting especially in the opening scene it made me confused as to what’s going to be real in this book. There were several moments during reading that I considered DNF but even though I didn’t care for the storyline or the characters the writing had a nice flow with a touch of elegance. If you loved The Great Gatsby I would recommend this one.
Thank you to Tor Books for my advance review copy!

Was this review helpful?

The surreal setting and flowing descriptions made this book such a joy to read. I also enjoyed the more inclusive and diverse depiction of the roaring twenties, even if they were carved out of secret spaces and even Jordan friends where still often ignorant. Her in between position of not always belonging completely to the glittering set but still separated from her heritage was well written and added an interesting lens to the other characters in the story. The magic system was interesting, it was never outright explained which made the line between reality and the influence of the party scene hard to decipher at times. The party scenes were so wonderfully surreal and definitely my favorite aspect of the book. I found the book to be dreamy and compelling, hard to put down.

Was this review helpful?

4.5 stars

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a queer, inclusive retelling of The Great Gatsby with a wonderful Asian main character. I have never read the original Great Gatsby, but I have seen the 1974 adaptation, and I can tell you straight up this retelling is 🌶spicy🌶. Not only did we get a side plot of possible demon interference, we got some nice sexy scenes.

This book follows Jordan Baker and her journey from Vietnam (Tonkin at the time) as a child to Louisville with her adoptive family, then finally to Long Island where she parties frequently with Daisy Buchanan, her friend from childhood. She soon meets Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin, and eventually Jay Gatsby, his rich neighbor.

The rich spend all their time at parties or organizing events. Jay Gatsby’s parties are always the most outrageous, but he never attends them. His parties contain some great magic that Jordan has seen, and even performed before.

Nghi Vo takes a tragic story about the rich and plentiful and gives it more depth to include the terrible situations people of color were forced into during the roaring twenties. She delves into homophobia, including internalized homophobia, and misogyny. The characters have incredible depth and I loved seeing more to the original characters Fitzgerald created.

Did I mention there were demons?!

Thank you to NetGalley, Tordotcom, and Nghi Vo for this advanced review copy!

CW: homophobia, Anti-Asian legislature, murder

Was this review helpful?

Admittedly, I had a bit of a harder time first getting into this novel. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books of all time and I found myself constantly noticing the changes made to my beloved story. As I read on and Jordan grew into herself as a character, I was able to appreciate how Vo transformed the popular work. The way that Vo seamlessly incorporated the haunting fantasy elements into the novel were stellar. I really liked the choice of making Jordan Vietnamese as it added another layer of how POC were treated in the 20s, as well as the masterful descriptions of paper cutting. And that ending, wow! A must read for everyone in love with these terrible, terrible characters wrapped up in the beauty of wealth.

Was this review helpful?