Legacies of culture and family collide in Clifford Garstang's novel The Shaman of Turtle Valley
in conversation with Marjorie Hudson
Tuesday 2/18, 7 pm
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 grows 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.
Clifford Garstang is the author of three books of fiction: The Shaman of Turtle Valley, a novel published in 2019 by Braddock Avenue Books, and two collections of stories, What the Zhang Boys Know and In an Uncharted Country. Garstang grew up in the Midwest and received a BA from Northwestern University. After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, he earned an MA in English and a JD, both from Indiana University, and practiced international law in Singapore, Chicago, and Los Angeles with Sidley Austin, one of the largest law firms in the United States. Subsequently, he earned an MPA in International Development from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and worked for Harvard Law School as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 1996 to 2001, he was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., where his work concentrated on China, Indonesia, Korea, and Vietnam. After leaving the World Bank, Garstang received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is the co-founder and former Editor of Prime Number Magazine and currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where he serves on the Augusta County Electoral Board, the Board of Trustees of the American Shakespeare Center, and the Board of Trustees of the Frontier Culture Museum.