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.
Praise for The Shaman of Turtle Valley:
With his first novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, Clifford Garstang has created a melding of two worlds he knows intimately, and he has done so with the outright surety of a master. Turtle Valley itself sits below the mountain ranges of Virginia, maybe, but the valleys at work in the hearts and minds of Mr. Garstang’s characters owe as much to the history and culture of Korea, that far-off land from which the novel’s protagonist brings his teenage bride. By using a series of short but fluid sections, moving about the world with ease, Mr. Garstang has given us a novel with the feel of something universal and, indeed, epic. Once you start it you won’t be able to put it down.
—Richard Wiley (Korea 1967-69), author of Soldiers In Hiding, winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for Best American Fiction
In his excellent and deeply moving novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, Clifford Garstang has created a fine cast of characters, most notably the women surrounding his protagonist, Aiken. By inhabiting their voices and lives, showing their resilience and complexity, their precise, individual emotional terrains, he imbues the novel with a powerful undertow of empathy, alignment, and imaginative comprehension. This is a story about the many kinds of love—beautifully written, unerringly told.
—Kate Christensen, PEN/Faulkner-award winning author of The Great Man and The Last Cruise
When Aiken Alexander, a vet returning from Desert Storm, brings his young Korean shaman wife home with him to the Virginia mountains, he sets off a powerful cross-cultural collision. Garstang’s novel reads like a modern-day version of the Odyssey with a delicious twist: on his return to Ithaca, this Odysseus brings Circe with him.
—David Payne, author of Barefoot to Avalon
Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77) is the author of the novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and the short story collection In an Uncharted Country. He is also the editor of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, a three-volume anthology of stories set around the world. A former Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea and an international lawyer, Garstang lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.