Member Reviews

I have a little mixed reaction about The Chosen and the Beautiful. While I did enjoy Nghi Vo’s visual and lyrical writing, it took me a bit to fully immerse myself into the world. This might shock many but I have never watched The Great Gatsby nor have I read the book. To say that I was confused about the setting and the connection between the characters is an understatement. In the same vein, this means that I’m not sure how much this book has deviated or stayed the same as compared to the original classic. Regardless, once I got used to the setting, the book just pulled me in.

Jordan’s an interesting character. Aloof and uncaring about others, Jordan does what she wants as she was adopted into the Baker family and is a part of the high society life. Magic runs in her veins. She endures conversations that have racist undertones and lives in a time where an Act was about to pass that bans all Asians. Through her, Nghi Vo discusses white supremacy, racial discrimination, and class struggles.

As mentioned before, Nghi Vo’s writing is enchanting. She perfectly described the lavish and dazzling lifestyle of a socialite and the magical elements of Jay Gatsby’s mansion and parties. The complicated relationship between the characters remains a mystery for me. Daisy, Jordan, Nick, Jay, and Tom’s lives are intertwined with magic and by fate. Feelings are messy and throw in the five of them, it becomes chaos.

Ultimately, this is Jordan’s story and her perspective of a queer Asian in the 1920s. The Chosen and the Beautiful is another beautiful creation by Nghi Vo. I just wished there were more explanations for certain things such as the magic and had more time to understand the relationship between each and every one of the characters.

Regardless, I had a wonderful time reading The Chosen and the Beautiful. Nghi Vo never fails to draw me into her works and I’m sure this will not be the last time.

Was this review helpful?

This work is a stunning reimagining of The Great Gatsby, told from the perspective of Jordan Baker- a queer, Vietnamese young woman.

Vo’s reimagining of Fitzgerald’s classic novel immerses the reader in quite literally a magical world. While maintaining the elegance of the original story through intentional and beautiful prose, Vo introduces fantastical elements and explores themes of sexuality, racism, and identity. I became completely captured by Vo’s brilliant writing, and I believe this work will sit deeply with me for a long time. 🌼

Was this review helpful?

My thoughts are pretty conflicted on this one. Firstly, in terms of things I enjoyed, the magic system was really unique, and when the action started to pick up around the 75% mark I couldn’t put the book down. I also loved the discussions it offered about culture, race and queerness during this time period.

However, as a whole this book didn’t entirely captivate me. I wasn’t aware when I picked this up that it was a Great Gatsby retelling. Retellings aren’t usually my cup of tea and as The Great Gatsby is not one of my favourite classics anyway, I wasn’t that interested in the core story. Additionally, the writing, while it will definitely work for other people, just left me confused. It was often very abstract and flowery and at times I really struggled to understand what was going on. I also didn’t particularly like the main character, Jordan.
Despite that, I do think that a lot of people will enjoy this. It was very magical and atmospheric, and overall my ambivalent feelings might be more of a me thing than the book itself.

Content Warnings: racism and racist slurs, xenophobia, intimate partner abuse, adultery, white-saviour complex and stealing of a child from Vietnam, abortion, death of a loved one, body horror, murder, car accident, alcohol use, gun violence, passing mention of war, passing mention of suicide

Was this review helpful?

3.5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

As many have mentioned in their reviews before me, this was a very ambitious retelling of The Great Gatsby. I’m not going to say it subverted that book but it really took the story in a different direction. Told from the point of view of Jordan Baker, a Vietnamese-American woman who grew up as a transracial adoptee to a rich, white high society family it was already giving us something the original sorely needed, which was a diverse take on “the ails of rich folks” as viewed by those who are within but still held outside the circle.

I very much enjoyed how we have the addition of demons into powerful high society, magical realism, the idea of literally selling you soul for power, and exploring sexuality in a new way that is really very attractive. Give me all of the LGBTIA+ sexiness, darlings. Just admit it, we all secretly (or not so secretly) wanted Nick and Gatsby to hook up in the original story. Those two were made for slash fiction.

I will say that the prose is very atmospheric and frilly. I lost the thread a few times and sort of drifted out of the story feeling a little lost. I love dreamy, surreal settings but sometimes I got distracted and then things got a little dull and oppressive just like the very hot summers with no air conditioning in West Egg, Long Island. Because of that I don’t think I enjoyed this as much as I had hoped to.

Overall I enjoyed it for what it was, super creative and really different from the stuffy original.

Was this review helpful?

The Chosen and the Beautiful broke my heart because I wanted so much more from it. I have loved some of Vo's other novellas and so I was so excited for this queer Asian retelling of The Great Gatsby - which was a book I really did not enjoy ever since my first reading of it. But what I found instead was a book that seemed not to interrogate with the original material enough. Taking a side character perspective of The Great Gatsby I was expecting more subversion and a new lens to the classic. However, I instead felt that the basic story of The Chosen and the Beautiful sticks pretty closely to the original - even though it's been a while since I read it.

And for the new perspective of Jordan to be so different from the original, maybe that was my own fault for expecting it to interrogate the classic. But, I haven't read it in a while, so I tried to move past that. As a transracial adoptee I was even more excited for The Chosen and the Beautiful. And it's another way this book broke my heart. While I understand that Jordan's identity revolves mostly around being treated as 'exotic' by her peers, I felt that there were some opportunities for Jodan to examine her feelings which were not discussed.

Was this review helpful?

I love pretty much anything set in the roaring 20’s, the age of glamour and debauchery, but for Jordan Baker (Gatsby retelling anyone),being Asian, queer and adopted makes her an oddity. As she tries to find her way in we see both the glamorous and seedy sides of this time period. Trying to find her voice, her heritage and her path in this world is a journey the reader will gladly go on with her. I look forward to teaching this with Gatsby next year!

Was this review helpful?

Who knew that a sapphic The Great Gatsby would be one of the contenders of my most favorite reads of the year? Spoiler alert: me! I knew. And I'm so glad it lived up to my own expectations. The Chosen and the Beautiful is my first Nghi Vo book but the author's mastery over the 26 letters of the alphabet, as exhibited in this book, ensures that it won't be the last. Quick, biting, and beautiful.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed this one. I have read The Great Gatsby at least three times, and never really liked it. But I think that knowing the story was helpful when reading this novel. This was the story written anew with enough differences, some magic, some more self-awareness (at the very end), and a very satisfying result for the eyeglasses billboard (no spoilers!).
I really liked the take on Jordan being adopted and her growth as a character understanding more about her own history.
The writing is lovely and pulls you into the false dream of the never-ending summer of 1922 and parties and frivolity.

Was this review helpful?

I really love the approach this author takes, and the writing is quite strong. I think unfortunately my own perpetual dislike of the source material prevented me from fully diving in, but I think this will find a welcome audience when it publishes.

Was this review helpful?

Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge & NetGalley for the early copy in exchange for an honest review. Disclaimer: I have never read the book this story revolves around. My rating is 2.5/5, though I'm keeping it at 2 stars.

This is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby with newer themes such as LGBT+ characters, magic, and multiple PoC characters including the narrator, who is a Vietnamese immigrant.

This is definitely one of those books that you really have to think hard on and the prose writing doesn't really help make it any easier to read. It probably doesn't help that I never read the original Great Gatsby but even then, the flowery writing makes it really difficult to follow. Scenes shifted quickly, time moved back and forth, character conversations were introduced halfway through a conversation...very difficult read. I might have to read this at least 3 times to really appreciate it.

Unfortunately, I am knocking the stars down just for the difficulty and inaccessibility, but I will concede some of the difficulty comes from not reading the original book, but most of it in my opinion is due to the writing style being difficult to understand.

I did like the chaos in the writing at times, it fits the aesthetic of the 1920s! Jordan was a really fascinating character and narrator as well. She also isn't 100% wholesome/good, either, so it makes for an interesting read.

I'd like to recommend it to Great Gatsby fans, they might appreciate it more than me. For those like me who didn't read Gatsby, this may not be very appealing at all, so I'd just avoid this book until you read the original.

Was this review helpful?

I have not read The Great Gatsby since high school, which might make me the perfect reader for Vo's queer reimagining of the story from a Vietnamese-American Jordan Baker's perspective. I remembered enough of the framework to get to admire what Vo was doing with the story, but was never distracted by details and could just get swept away in the book. Gatsby's parties as places for Bright Young Things and demons to mix? Love it. There were times that the lyricism of the prose made it a little difficult for me to follow what was happening-- particularly in the paper-cutting magic that Jordan has access to-- but I just went with it and enjoyed the ride.

Was this review helpful?

A really interesting and unique take on The Great Gatsby, I think I preferred this one to the original!
Filled with an amazing and diverse cast of characters, they felt well developed and realistic.
I loved Jordan as a character, an adopted, queer Vietnamese woman who has been both overlooked and treated like an attraction by her peers. I loved the magical elements in the novel, as well as how it veered from the original source material, giving a new commentary on gender, sexuality, race, and social class.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you, NetGalley for the digital copy of this title for review.

I am not sure how I felt about this one. Truthfully, I enjoyed the reimagining of The Great Gatsby, but the characters were more complicated than I originally thought. Jordan was much more impressive in this retelling than I remembered from the original story, but she also came alive.

It was well-written, and a good story for what it is.

Was this review helpful?

There is magic in Nghi Vo's writing, something that is palpable in every word, in every sentence, like a golden thread woven through a gorgeous, multi-layered tapestry. It is some ineffable spellcraft that might be described in other words as "the it factor" - you know it when you see it, or, in this case, when you read it.
Nghi Vo has "it" in spades.

As with her previous work, The Singing Hills Cycle, Vo's prose works effectively to help her characters inhabit the time and place that she is conjuring. While The Singing Hills Cycle made me feel like I was reading an ancient, recently recovered Asian fable, just slightly edited to fit modern sensibilities, The Chosen and the Beautiful evokes the Roaring Twenties brilliantly while still retaining its originality and that certain modern flair. There are echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald as the story hits some beats familiar to everyone who read The Great Gatsby in school, but crucially, this does not read as derivative at all. This is partially due to how Vo cleverly reshapes the narrative: shifting the role of narrator from Nick to Jordan, making Jordan a Vietnamese immigrant adopted into wealth and constantly othered, adding ample queer flavor as well as magical elements to the story. It is also due to just how unique her own written voice is, how vividly it shines through each syllable.

This is the queer, feminist, magical twist on Gatsby that I have longed for, but did not know I needed until I read it. The magical elements are implemented perfectly, just weird enough and positively wonderful in how they affect the world and its workings. It describes racist, classist and misogynist structures with such sharpness and depth that I often found myself gasping while reading. It is so intelligent, so cutting and so incredibly, darkly beautiful.

While Fitzgerald's original work is a classic for a reason, this is what a modern classic should look like - a masterclass in style, an indictment of harmful sentiments that should have been left in the previous century, a fascinating retelling of a story you thought you knew, and a magnificently beautiful world of words to lose oneself in.

Was this review helpful?

The Chosen and the Beautiful is a stunning read. In turns dream-like and sharp, it paints a heady, turbulent story of belonging and identity, love and meaning, set against the familiar story of The Great Gatsby. The magic of the world was a particular delight, making the wild world of the roaring 20s even more vibrant and dangerous.

Was this review helpful?

Literary isn’t really my genre and The Great Gatsby, to high school me, was tolerable at best. But when Nghi Vo has a new book, and one that centers around the Asian American experience surrounded by white peers, I simply must read it. And what a delight it was. Vo keeps to Gatsby’s literary roots while giving her re-imagined Jordan, now a young Vietnamese American woman, so much more depth and taking a deep exploration into Jordan’s intersection of racial discrimination and class privilege.

With Vo’s usual literary flair, The Chosen and the Beautiful is written, well, beautifully. We follow two timelines, one present tracing the steps of The Great Gatsby itself, and one past, following Jordan’s footsteps, illustrating how a young Vietnamese woman found her place in the midst of New York’s elite society. The pacing is slow and languid, and certainly very character-driven. We follow Jordan and Daisy as they prepare for trips to the city, intertwine lives with the likes of Nick and Gatsby. But we also learn of Jordan’s more sordid adventures, to hidden speakeasies and affairs with strangers. The magical element in this book isn’t very strong, hints of papercutting and demonaic, but it certainly adds to the mysterious, intoxicating atmosphere of the book.

The part of this book I really want to highlight is Jordan’s attitude towards the (largely white) high society she finds herself a part of. Jordan is ethnically Vietnamese, and yet is raised, and accepted, among her white peers. She’s learned to build up walls, to brush away the stares and the not-so-subtle racist comments (“oh, but not you, dear”). In many ways, Jordan has learned to ‘successfully’ integrate herself and even use her unique “exotic” appearance to her own benefit. As the society around her debates the merits of removing those of Chinese descent from the country (and all other Asian ethnicities, because let's be honest, they can’t tell the difference), Jordan gives it barely passing thought, protected in this shield of exotic whiteness she’s built herself.

It’s not only until an encounter with an actor from a Vietnamese entertainment troupe and is all but forcibly dragged to meet the other members that she consciously confronts her Asian-ness, her Otherness, in this White society. Simultaneously, Jordan is confronted with the privilege of her wealth and social status, forced to recognize where money and social connections can smooth away the racism. The commentary Vo presents is extremely thoughtful and nuanced, and certainly not one I’ve seen in the SFF genre before. There’s certainly no handholding, but particularly as someone who’s learned to navigate a largely white society in a similar manner Jordan has, the parallels and commentary were very apparent.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. The literary nature and slow, slice-of-life like pacing of this book many turn some readers away, but this new imagining of an Asian American, queer Jordan and her mindset navigating the social elites of New York high society gives a delightfully nuanced perspective I’ve never quite seen before, one I strongly resonated with.

Review to be posted to my blog 17 May 2021

Was this review helpful?

The Chosen and The Beautiful is a seductively dark fantasy.

"He stands there, and looks across the water, and he looks across the years to when she was his and when she will be his."

In the summer of 1922, Josephine Baker is galavanting parties and speakeasies. At one of the most exclusive parties, she reconnects with Jay Gatsby in his Long Island Mansion. "At Gatsby's, the clock stood at just five shy of midnight the moment you arrived. Crossing from the main road through the gates of his world, a chill swirled around you, the stars came out, and a moon rose up out of the Sound. It was no Mercury dime New York moon, but a harvest moon brought all the way from the wheat fields of North Dakota to shine with sweet benevolence down on the chosen and the beautiful."

The story slowly unravels with elements of fantasy, ghosts, enchantments, and illusions. Jordan can cut paper into people and things that come to life. "Pinched between my thin fingers, the paper lion started to shiver as if in a breeze. It wiggled, it danced, and soon enough the four cut paws started to pedal in the air, churning for purchase before arching its rear legs up to scrape at my wrist."
Nghi Vo centers on queer representation throughout the book. The main character, Jordan, deals with relationships differently than most. While girls her age are looking for husbands, she is choosing her lifestyle. "It was becoming obvious to them and to me that I couldn't follow them into marriage and luncheons and good works...I existed in a kind of borderland of acceptable and not, sometimes more one side, sometimes more on another."

Moreover, Jordan is a Vietnamese woman taken from her home by a missionary and brought back to the United States to live in a wealthy high society family. An immigrant living in Lousiville, where no one looks like her, and does not know much about her heritage. "For my part, I was a nominally a Lousiville Baker, a name with its own distinguished history, but it had always hung oddly on me, adopted from distant Tonkin and with a face that people variously guessed was Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Venezuelan, or even Persian." The family that raised her gave her everything, and she built a reputation of allure and mystery. However, she understands that her bubble of wealth and status can only last for so long. While the political climate is becoming more intense and dangerous for immigrants, Josephine knows it'll find her soon.

This book intends to be a retelling of The Great Gatsby. I never read the book, and I barely watched the movie with Leo Di Caprio. I understand it to be a tragedy, a love affair doomed to fail. While Josephine tells us the story of that romance, she deals with her affection towards Nick Carraway. He is a strange and secretive character, and as the book goes on, he proves to be precisely that. I wish there were more of Nick and Josephine. I didn't like Daisy or Jay; however, I know the point was to embrace that story. Overall, Nghi Vo writes an elegant tale filled with tension, heartache, and desire.
I look forward to reading more of their work.

Was this review helpful?

I'm so happy Great Gatsby is in the public domain! We never really get a ton from Jordan's character, so I love this reimagination story. Here, she is queer and Asian and is treated as an exotic attraction in the rarefied circles she runs in. Unfortunately, I had a tough time with this. I think this is more of an "it's not you it's me" type of thing. The writing is gorgeous and intentional, but it's far more lyrical than I typically gravitate toward and I had trouble following. It was a fun take- I found myself thinking back to the original story but the author still managed to create something very new. I can't wait for more people to get their hands on it- especially those that are better able to dissect this beautiful book.

Was this review helpful?

MY FIRST 5 STAR OF THE YEAR! IN THE END OF FRIGGEN APRIL!!

I love The Great Gatsby. I love the Baz Luhrmann adaptation.

This book took the best elements of both of those things and made them better somehow. The vibes are PERFECTION — the atmospheric, melancholy nature of the original is here in full force and I adored it.

Nghi Vo’s prose is top notch and I personally loved the magic woven in — it was just enough without overtaking the tone.

She somehow made these characters MORE themselves??? Such an enjoyable read!

Was this review helpful?

As someone who loves THE GREAT GATSBY, I was really interested in seeing what Vo was going to do with this retelling from Jordan's point of view. Now that GATSBY is in the public domain Vo was able to take actual dialogue and scenes from the original and tweak them just a little bit to give them different meanings and emotional beats. I loved that Jordan is a Vietnamese-American woman (adopted.... kind of.... by a wealthy white family) trying to live her life in 1920s New York high society, and how comments on race, gender, and class were explored through her as a character. It makes some of the more sinister elements of the story feel even more sinister. I had a harder time with the magical realism elements at hand, just because I felt like they were kind of underutilized in the story overall, but I liked the bare bones and world building of it. And finally, it is awesome to have multiple queer characters and having them explore their sexualities, especially since the original material flirted with this but never went beyond 'coded' given the that it was written. Vo makes it feel organic and yes, it lets me live my best Gatsby/Carraway fantasy.

I really enjoyed THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL, and if this is the kind of content we can expect from GATSBY entering the public domain, I am VERY excited.

Was this review helpful?