Cover Image: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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What Gatsby’s parties were was easy. It felt as if every wish you had while within his domain might be granted, and the only rule was that you must be beautiful and witty and bright.

Jordan Baker is a woman at a series of intersections. She’s an immigrant, a child brought to the American Midwest by a rich white woman enamored of her potential magic. She’s a magician, kept away from the knowledge of her heritage and power, forced to learn and turn away from what her cultural magic. She’s a woman living within the upper hierarchies of blue-blooded society, both entrenched within the system and yet forever apart when it matters most. And she’s queer, in a world where it’s both accepted and frowned upon, depending on what circles you run in.

She’s maintained her friendship with Daisy over the years, and yet when a mysterious stranger from their past returns, she finds her intersections merging harder than ever before, as Jay Gatsby, the Chinese Exclusion Act, her dying aunt and the fraught anxieties of Jazz Age New York rich with magic, changing social structures and impermeance.

People are at their worst in transition, moving from one life to another.

This was such a brilliant retelling of The Great Gatsby, and managed to be both a skewering analysis of that classic and American history, and a fantastical story of a woman moving through various layers, never letting herself really settle on any thing or time.

New York in the summer was a playful kind of purgatory. The men sent their wives and kids to the shore or the countryside, and then they sent for their pretty girls and boys who could bear the heat. Despite the lack of actual children, there was a childish, carnival air to the still summer months, of a breeze that would carry a hint of saltwater taffy and the soft shrill cry of a carousel carillon.

Jordan Baker flits through her surreal life with an air of calculated detachment and jaded cynicism—her nature is quickly realized as a coping mechanism, as she is a woman who knows exactly where the lines in her life are (from her gender to her sexuality to her age to her being Asian to her magic) and how far she can toe the line before settling back into herself in order to survive in a world stacked against her. And yet there’s always calculation beneath her studied ennui that is a sharp juxtaposition from her friend Daisy, whose own actions are reckless and self-destructive, a spoiled little girl rattling in a cage of respectability and expectation, raging against the limitations placed upon her (which she refuses to break) and the stultifying future of the life of a rich woman with nothing to do.

Men had no idea how careless women of their set weren’t allowed to be. They laughed at how fussy we were about which cars we got into, and they never wondered about the long stretches of bad road between glittering place and glittering place. It was a kind of darkness that could swallow someone whole, and whoever walked back, shoes in her hand, stockings shredded and calling for held from some dingy payphone, she wouldn’t be the same girl who roared off in that unwise Tourister.

Essays could (and probably will) be written about just how brilliant this yes. Yes, I’ve said brilliant again, because it is. It’s just so good and covers so much, and intermingles magic and demons and pacts so fucking well, as a way of demonstrating how ridiculous the excess of the upper class in the Jazz Age was amongst the blue bloods, the new money, and those striving to touch those rarified circles.

Unlike the original, which mostly focuses on Nick and his Midwestern uptightness and non-personness, this was focused on the women, and those stretches of darkness spanning from glittering place to glittering place, and what happened and how they survived and thrived and endured and lived.

So much is covered, so much is addressed, and I loved everything except the weak and muddied ending, because I like more resolution in my stories. However, resolution is not what you’re going to find here, and that’s precisely the point.

This is summer in 1920s New York among the upper set, and summer never lasts.

“Well, what in the world are we going to do with ourselves this afternoon?” she cried. “What are we going do with ourselves tomorrow, and then for the next thirty years?”

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
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I liked the premise of the book being a fresh take on The Great Gatsby and was intrigued.  This retelling added an interesting element of magic to it and I wanted to see more of the magic on display throughout the story.  I appreciated how Jordan's story was told from the viewpoint of a Vietnamese person.  I liked how she saw everything completely differently from those around her.  I wanted more of Jordan's relationship with Nick as well -- I was drawn to the mystery of it.  I liked that there was plenty of queer representation in this book as well and Gatsby's home served as a safe space for everyone to just be.  I enjoyed the writing and the imagery throughout the story was so vivid that it was easy to imagine this period in time,
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The idea behind a classic story with a twist is all I needed. I absolutely love The Great Gatsby so I was so excited to read about a retelling told from Jordan Baker’s perspective. This story had it all, great lgbtq+ rep with great characters, and amazing plot line, and fantastically told. I listened to the audiobook and absolutely loved the narrator. I was hooked into this story and highly recommend it.
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this is the kind of book that drowns you and leaves you grateful. sweltering, sexy, subversive, smart (look i have an alliteration problem), atmospheric, haunting, dreamy. paper magic. summer in the city. complex, fraught identities negotiated in secret speakeasies and gin-soaked parlors. it was so GOOD.
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Gorgeous prose, intoxicating atmosphere, and wildly imaginative. A Great Gatsby retelling that follows a queer, asian Jordan Baker and examines the opulence of the Jazz Age through a fantastical lens. Dark and magical, I adored everything about this book.
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This book was so unique. I feel like it can be hard for a retelling to make a story stand apart, but I really enjoyed the diversity this Gatsby retelling took on and the magical elements included. However, I found myself wanting to see the magical elements expanded! I thought the concept was really special and deserved some more opportunity to be looked into. Overall I found the story real and lively and dark in many different ways, and I'm glad that it was created.
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I am just a little disappointed. There are moments where this novel sparkles and comes so utterly alive, but to me, these moments were rather scarce. Blame my own expectations - I wanted a lot out of this, much more than I was given in the end. I wanted this to challenge TGG more. I wanted it to change everything. I desperately wanted the focus to shift and I wanted Jordan to be the centerpiece. While she is the constant observer of everything that happens, and like I said, there are moments where it & she shine, she didn't feel like the CENTERpiece. An important constant, sure, but not the center.

So while I thought that the writing was absolutely gorgeous (I will definitely get my hands on Nghi Vo's other works, past and future), the language like liquid, atmospheric and stunning, the plot left a little to be desired for me. I wish the whole book had as much power as some scenes towards the end. It existed in a summer lull, though, which I guess is perfect for the setting and the story. 

There were a few out-of-left-field remarks that left me wondering the purpose, and Gatsby's barely mentioned Indigenous heritage combined with the mismatched Nations in the ARC felt very disingenuous and a little questionable.
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When I reread The Great Gatsby, I hadn't really remembered the character of Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy and sometimes narrator. In this retelling, she is the focus, lending a queer, Asian, and sometimes magical perspective. I know I claim to dislike retellings, but I loved this!

Since the original work is now famously in the public domain, many authors have been taking the work and running with it. Nghi Vo uses some pieces verbatim, whether they be dialogue or scene setters, but always for a purpose of showing from a different angle. Jordan has a lot of access to the characters, after all, and also has the ability to create out of paper cutting (took me back to The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.) Gatsby may have more secrets than we knew, the rich and famous drink Demoniac, and there seems to be glamour beyond just what money can buy.

I've been putting in some shifts as a summer advisor at work, and one day I brought this with me to read over a break. One of the incoming students was telling me about writing about Gatsby for her AP exam, and I pulled this book out to show her. Maybe I have a little glamour myself.
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I've read F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby twice, and each time I've been baffled by the acclaim*. Much like the critics of its time, I think the book is fine, but not much more than that. The trouble is that Gatsby is an idiot, Nick not much better, and Tom and Daisy are just awful. The only character I've ever cared about was Jordan Baker, which is honestly the main reason I agreed to read and review this magical, queer, Asian adaptation of it.

Tho that isn't entirely accurate: I picked it up because I really dig Nghi Vo's writing, and loved the idea of her spinning a fresh view of the classic story by centering the only character I found remotely bearable in it. In this adaptation, Jordan is the adopted Vietnamese daughter of the moneyed, blue-blooded Baker family. She moved away from the Middle West to live with her suffragette Aunt Justine in New York City, and spends most of her time on the town when not playing in golf tournaments. Through her old friend Daisy Buchanan, she meets Nick Carraway, whom she has to rescue from one of Jay Gatsby's infamous parties. They get involved but everything ends poorly for everyone.

Plot-wise, the book is faithful to its source material, only adding in magic as a fillip that does more for Jordan's story than anyone else's. There are several interesting plot twists, mostly to do with the paper-cutting magic Jordan inherently knows, and lots of interesting notes on what it's like to be Asian in a primarily white environment. That last is probably The Chosen And The Beautiful's greatest strength, as Jordan navigates the casually racist high society of Jazz Age America. She's both a part of and separate from it, both clinging to and repulsed by a world that's all she's ever known, tho she strongly suspects there's much more outside it. This struggle to reconcile the dominant milieu with her sense of self is certainly far more compelling than Gatsby's, in large part due to the fact that she's not basing her entire life's purpose on her idea of another person. As an Asian person who's often found herself the minority participant in many situations, whether it be for reasons of race or class or wealth, I found Jordan's wry observations to be extremely relatable.

But it's not just that sense of kinship that has me rating TCatB more highly than TGG itself: it's the sense that Ms Vo at least empathizes with her characters despite having a clear-eyed view them as deeply flawed people. This goes beyond being sex- or queer-positive, tho those are certainly admirable quantities this book possesses. Mr Fitzgerald's contempt for his characters in TGG was juxtaposed with his need for us to find them somehow tragically romantic, and thus compelling. How on earth are we meant to admire characters the author can barely hide his seething disdain for? Ms Vo's more thoughtful treatment of the exact same cast highlights this jarring flaw of the source book: she views them more as people than figures, and the story is made all the better for it. I honestly can't decide whether you'd like TCatB better if you enjoyed TGG or otherwise.

I did hope that there were parts in the ARC I read that were subsequently fixed by an editor: Ms Vo's writing overall is terrific, but towards the end of the novel had a bad habit of losing its references, such that I had to backtrack my way through paragraphs to try and figure out what exactly pronouns and clauses were referring to (there's probably a more concise term for this phenomenon but I majored in IT, not English.) TCatB isn't my favorite work of hers, but is a really terrific way to frame the Asian experience in America through a fantasy-historical-literary lens.

*Oh, fine, I know why, it's because so many are forced to read it in high school and it leaves an early impression, even tho its primary strengths are its relative shortness, salaciousness and strength of symbolism, the holy trinity of certain English teachers desperate to get their students to even think about reading.

The Chosen And The Beautiful by Nghi Vo was published June 1 2021 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including <a href="">Bookshop!</a>.
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As a lover of the original story, I absolutely loved this retelling. Jordan Baker was already the best of the group, but Vo's interpretation of her really brings the character to life. The magic of Gatsby's parties becomes more menacing and yet cheap at the same time through the magic of Vo's writing.
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Readers who love the glitz of “The Great Gatsby” might enjoy Nghi Vo’s debut novel “The Chosen and the Beautiful,” which revisits the captivating world of Gatsby. 

Vo’s novel revolves around Jordan Baker, who was raised and lives among the wealthy set during the Jazz Age, despite not quite fitting in with the rest of the group. Vo injects an air of fantasy into Fitzgerald’s classic, as Jordan moves through a world that doesn’t quite accept her due to her Vietnamese heritage and queer identity. As she spends her summer drinking with Daisy and flirting with Nick, Jordan tries to avoid the cloying and all-too-powerful nature of Jay Gatsby. 

At the same time, Jordan finds that she has a strange skill that allows her to bring paper figures to life. That puzzles her until she meets someone else who can do the same thing, which forces her to reflect on her early childhood. 

Vo’s spin on the classic Jazz Age tale offers a new glimpse into Gatsby’s character and adds dimension to Nick, the original tale’s narrator. 

Through Vo’s novel, readers can return to the world of Gatsby through the fever-dream veil of the fantasy that Vo has woven through the classic tale. What makes “The Chosen and the Beautiful” so fascinating is how Vo expertly weaves in the fantasy elements in such a delicate manner that it feels like a natural part of the story. The protagonist’s casual observations of magic and passing references to demons feel at home in the raging party scene of the 1920s.
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I first fell in love with Nghi Vo last year when I picked up The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which immediately became one of my favorite reads of 2020. Vo is a spectacular storyteller and I firmly believe that she is one of the most underrated authors of current.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is an own voices reclamation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Vo’s version chooses Jordan (the clever young flapper who appears in the original as Daisy’s confidante and Nick’s romantic interest) as its protagonist… except here, Jordan is Vietnamese-American and queer.

I’m not a reader who typically enjoys retellings of classics. They often feel formulaic to me and the confines of the preexisting story can sometimes feel like they're limiting the true potential and creativity of the author.

However, I think there’s something really special about POC and LGBTQ+ authors using classic stories as a medium to express their own experiences and perspectives, while also making them more inclusive and modern in the process.

Not only does The Chosen and the Beautiful reject Fitzgerald’s antisemitic and xenophobic legacy, it actively seeks to highlight the history and experiences of Asian Americans and gives us a nuanced depiction of multiple bi/pan characters in a historical setting.

I loved getting lost in Vo’s glittering and glamorous 1920’s world of vice, excess, privilege, and desire… but my favorite parts were when Vo really leaned into her spectacular talent for writing fantasy - specifically when she explored Jordan’s magic and Gatsby’s origins.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is dramatically different in genre from Vo’s previous high fantasy novellas like The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, but I believe that difference shows what incredible range Vo has as an author. She truly is a renaissance writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

I highly recommend any and all of Nghi Vo’s books to fans of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s stunning books and anyone who loves queer, feminist, and diverse fantasy stories.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful is a brilliant and magical retelling of The Great Gatsby. Nghi Vo stays true to The Great Gatsby storyline while also giving the story a refreshing and more complex touch. The story is told through the eyes of Jordan Baker, a queer Asian girl who lives among the elite in 1920s America. This change in perspective, and Vo’s ability to weave in some light magic, revives this classic story.

Nghi Vo’s writing is so beautiful and gripping, I couldn’t stop reading this book once I started. Vo brings the 1920s to life in such a real and not tacky way (which I find rare). Vo’s writing style really sucks you in with its intricate and beautiful descriptions.

The characters are really what make this story. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby , you are familiar with Daisy, Gatsby, and Nick and their dynamic. Jordan Baker is part of the original narrative, but Vo writes her into such a thoughtful and complex character. Themes of the American dream, class, and love that you get from The Great Gatsby are built upon through the eyes of Jordan. She is part of the elite, but is still distanced from it as someone who is adopted, and is seen as exotic by her peers. This is definitely a book that will reveal more of its complexities upon rereading. The Chosen and the Beautiful made me want to reread The Great Gatsby just so I could go back to The Chosen and the Beautiful and revel in Vo’s ability to take on such a classic work and make it all her own.

I loved The Chosen and the Beautiful. I was so excited for Vo’s debut novel and it went well beyond my expectations. Retellings are tricky, but this novel is a rare case of a retelling that feels true to its original source, but also better in many ways. I’d recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed Nghi Vo in the past, lovers of The Great Gatsby, or anyone who enjoys a 1920s setting and a story filled with explorations of class, race, sexuality, and the meaning of love.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Tor for the ARC copy of this book, given in exchange for an honest review.*
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Whimsical, fantastical, and richly imagined, The Chosen and The Beautiful sets the bar for Great Gatsby retellings. Nghi Vo’s other books have all been excellent, and I absolutely loved how Vo put her own unique spin on this classic tale. I would highly recommend this one, I already know that it’s going to be on my list of 2021 favorites.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful is a 5 star must read book out today.

“Everything was dripping with money and magic, to the point no one questioned the light that flooded the house…”

A lush, opulent story rich with beautiful writing, magical realism, luxurious living and dangerous relationships. Guaranteed to draw new readers to the wonder that is Nghi Vo’s writing. Readers already in love with Gatsby will enjoy this new telling that bends around a feminist perspective. Readers who never knew or liked Gatsby will fall in love with this novel, sure to consume hot, humid summer days with the pace and tension of glittering parties, dangerous liaisons, and the anxiety of hidden love. Anything can be bought for a price; everything is possible if you are willing to pay; but there are limits to new money in the face of generational wealth and power. Read it because it is decadently beautiful in story telling and writing. Pair it with the traditional Gatsby for a more luxurious and full reading experience. A great novel to #DisruptTexts, discuss with your #BookClub, or to reread with wonder and emotions rubbed raw.
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The Chosen and the Beautiful
By Nghi Vo

This book was dubbed as a retelling of the classic work by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY. There are a lot of similarities with the overall themes, but much more in that it involves magic in an atmosphere of a luscious and greed-filled world of 1920’s New York. Told in Jordan Baker’s voice, a Vietnamese adoptee, this story was impactful in its themes of racial injustice, wealth and class, in a gorgeous twist from the original, Vo writes in an exquisite prose that now includes representation from queer and Asian characters that were lacking from the original classic story. 

Simply breathtaking and beautiful.
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This book moved me in so many different ways. I felt like I went on a journey with the characters and I didn’t want it to end. The pacing was on point and the character development was exceptional. I world highly recommend this to a book club!
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"..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.
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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.
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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.
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