Donuts, Violins and Aliens Fuel Self-Discovery in Ryka Aoki’s Light from Uncommon Stars in

Ryka Aoki’s new novel, Light from Uncommon Stars, is packed with as much variety as a box of lovingly prepared assorted donuts from your favorite, funky-but-long-standing neighborhood donut shop.

One of the book’s primary settings is, in fact, a donut shop, but unlike other Los Angeles donut shops it is run by a family of refugees from a faraway galaxy.
The story revolves around three women—the matriarch of the outer space family, Lan Tran; Shizuka Satomi, a world famous violin teacher, who is also contractually obliged to deliver souls to hell; and her newest student, Katrina Nguyen, a trans runaway fleeing an abusive home who has no formal violin training but is a brilliant musician with natural talent.

With a book focused on musicians, Aoki relied on narration to convey the power of Katrina’s performances. “When one is a poet and writing novels, sometimes … I feel at a horrible disadvantage. I still write at the speed of a poet. … But during certain moments, I’m really glad I’m a poet because I know darn well that I can convey music through words. … I can use imagery. I can use analogy, but mostly I can vary my sentence structures. I can play with clauses. I can concatenate my grammar. I can write sentences so that one sentence jams into the next. I layer sentence fragments occasionally to build a collage of meaning. And these are all things that are poet tricks.”

The themes of Light from Uncommon Stars are as varied as its cast. The books is about talent and genius, creativity and love, and the sacrifices—or deals with the devil—that some people may make to achieve success.

Ryka Aoki is a poet, composer, and teacher. Her mixed collection Seasonal Velocities and poetry collection Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards. And is also the author of the novel Hey Mele Ah Hilo.

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