Bynum, Sarah Shun-lien

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BYNUM, Sarah Shun-lien

PERSONAL: Married. Education: Brown University, received degree; Iowa Writers Workshop, University of Iowa, received degree.

ADDRESSES: Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—Bill Clegg, Burnes & Clegg, Inc., 1133 Broadway, Suite 1020, New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Iowa arts fellowship; National Book Award finalist, 2004, for Madeleine Is Sleeping.


Madeleine Is Sleeping (novel), Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.

Contributor to the anthology The Best American Short Stories of 2004, and to the periodicals Alaska Quarterly Review and Georgia Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum won a coveted place as a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award for her debut novel, Madeleine Is Sleeping, "an allegory of adolescence," according to Heidi Jon Schmidt in People. The National Book Foundation, in announcing Bynum's place on the award's short list, described the novel as "part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story . . . [that] follows the real and surreal adventures of a girl from a small French village who falls into an unexpected triangle of desire and love."

Bynum's novel is filled with a cast of exotic characters, including an artist fashioned after the actual French performer Le Petomane, who made music by breaking wind, a woman who sprouts wings, and another who grows viola strings. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Bynum explained to David Medaris in that "a few of the characters probably began as a little piece of grit—a feeling of discomfort and anxiety (over fatness, hairiness, disfigurement)—and through heightening and re-imagining these grotesque attributes, I think I hoped to turn that discomfort into the source of something lustrous and remarkable and lovely."

Bynum's novel tells the adventures of Madeleine, who, upon falling into a deep sleep, dreams of joining a gypsy circus and there, as Library Journal critic Barbara Hoffert noted, "encounters love in all its manifestations." Bynum creates, as a contributor to Publishers Weekly observed, "a perverse revisitation" of Ludwig Bemelman's famous children's books about Madeleine. The same critic felt that Bynum "alternates deftly between reality and illusion" in this "remarkable debut." However, Caroline M. Hallsworth, writing in Library Journal, felt that "pervasive darkness and sexuality render the novel anything but light and childlike," and that Bynum's "multilayered story is complex and sometimes disconcerting." A critic for Kirkus Reviews similarly found "Madeleine Is Sleeping" to be a "self-consciously exquisite first novel." This reviewer further commented that though "Bynum is undoubtedly gifted with language and well-versed in literary allusion,. . . her first [novel] is almost unreadable and frankly sleep-inducing." A more positive evaluation came from Schmidt, who concluded that the reader will finish Bynum's novel "rediscovering how profound—and profoundly strange—adolescence is." And John Crowley, reviewing the novel in the Washington Post Book World, also had praise for Bynum's work, noting that "it's a tribute to [Bynum's] talent that the lurid and excessive, nearly Gothic tale-telling seems neither crowded nor outrageous but instead delicate, grave and almost evanescent." Crowley further commended the "masterful way [Bynum] has kept her disappearing balls in the air."



Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 589.

Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 86; July, 2004, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 67.

New York Times, October 17, 2004, Edward Wyatt, "New Novels, Big Awards, No Readers," section 4, p. 2.

People, September 20 2004, Heidi Jon Schmidt, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 61.

Publishers Weekly, June 7, 2004, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 29.

Washington Post Book World, October 3, 2004, John Crowley, review of Madeleine Is Sleeping, p. 7.

ONLINE, (November 3, 2004), David Medaris, "Sarah Shun-lien Bynum" (interview).

National Book Foundation Web site, (November 3, 2004), "2004 National Book Award Finalist, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum."*