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review 2017-02-09 21:13
Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

 

When Andrew and I went to BEA 2016, this cover really stood out to us. There were only a few copies available and it was a fairly thick book, so we only picked up a copy for ourselves instead of also getting another copy for his classroom. I am SO glad we decided on grabbing it, because it’s been one of my favorite reads this year and I can’t wait to see how it’ll be received by everyone when it comes out.

 

Pachinko is a story that follows the life of Sunja, the daughter of a Korean couple who own a boardinghouse by the sea. It starts off by detailing her father’s life, then goes through the generations starting with Sunja herself, and then her son’s life, and finally her grandon’s life. It’s told through multiple perspectives, though it tends to focus more on Sunja’s family.

 

This is a story about what it meant to be Korean living under the shadow of Japan during World War II, what it meant to be Korean in the aftermath of World War II, and the sacrifices people make to ensure the survival and happiness of their future family members.

 

Pachinko is well developed and complex in its details of how these characters would have lived their lives during this time. I feel like the story of how Korea and its people lived under the rule of Japan around the time of World War II is largely untold and untaught — at least, it is in American public schools. While it is devastating in its bleakness, I enjoyed learning at least a little bit about this country and I feel as though I have a slightly deeper view of the world during World War II because of this book. Lee did an amazing job with her research in being able to trace how Japan acted towards Korea across these decades and showing it within the context of her story.

 

I was surprised by the pacing in this book. Usually, I find sagas to be just a tad on the slow side, and was a little worried when I saw that this story spanned generations, but while it’s comprehensive, the story moves steadily along, hitting the important parts and then skipping over the years when it needs to progress.

 

Given the different characters and the length of time this novel spans, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better as a short story cycle. It almost had that feel to it, and I think there were moments that would have been heightened had it been written in such a format. I don’t think that the story significantly suffers from it being written as a novel, but I do think that the way its constructed is almost an in-between novel and short story cycle, which sometimes took me out of the story a little bit to try to figure out what sort of format this is. Not a huge complaint or anything — just a thought.

 

For me, the first part of the book was the strongest and most compelling. My favorite part was reading about how much Sunja would sacrifice and how hard she would work to give her family the best chance possible. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in historical fiction. The characters and the writing itself are beautiful, and as I’ve said, it provides an interesting look at a culture that I don’t think we often get to learn about.

Source: www.purplereaders.com/?p=2556
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-01-25 21:42
Messing Up the Eco-System
Legacy of Heorot - 'Larry Niven', 'Jerry Pournelle', 'Steven Barnes'

Sometimes I wonder whether the more authors a book has the worse it becomes. Actually, come to think of it, I struggle to actually think of any work of literature that has more than one author – it seems as if for a book to enter into the annals of greatness the book has to be written by a single author. To me this isn't actually all that surprising because artists tend to work alone. In fact, when one considers music the same seems to apply, considering Bohemian Rhapsody was allegedly written by a single person (though I was always under the assumption that Queen, a four piece band, actually wrote the song, but then again people seem to think that Freddy Mercury actually wrote the song, Queen just performed it).

 

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this book was written by three people, which makes me wonder how a book is actually written by three people – do they write a chapter a piece, or do they just write specific characters? In either case how is it that they actually put the book together – do they sit down and work it out around some really bad cups of coffee, or do they argue about it around some really bad glasses of wine, and then go away, write their own sections and let the editors work it out. Or is it that they simply draft the outline of the book and then let poor Larry Niven sit down and put it all together. Well, however they do it the final product really didn't turn out all that well.

 

So, the story is set on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti. The characters had just come out of a hundred year long sleep and are now setting up for a new world on what appears to be a paradise. Unfortunately there was a problem with the hibernation pods and apparently everybody has emerged from deep sleep somewhat stupider. Mind you, if we are talking about the best and the brightest, maybe it is simply the fact that the one thing that they lack is common sense – this seems to always be the case when you put a bunch of academics together, the one thing that they all seem to lack is common sense. Anyway, they land on this world and in their mind it is a paradise, and after a number of surveys they believe that there isn't actually anything hostile on this world, that is until a nasty monster comes along and starts ripping everything apart. However, they don't actually believe that it was a monster, but some guy who is sulking over the fact that nobody believes that there is anything hostile on the island – that doesn't sound as if the hibernation pods had busted, that just sounds like your typical bunch of human beings who want to live with their heads in the sand – climate change anybody?

 

Anyway, they eventually realise that these creatures exist after one of them almost completely destroys the camp, so they decide to go out and hunt the rest of them down and kill them. Well, that turns out to be a particularly smart idea because it also turns out that these creatures have a natural way of keeping their population down – they eat their young. In fact, it turns out that they are like frogs – as babies they start off as fish, but when they mature they turn into these monsters – so, the mature creatures basically eat the babies, which keeps the population down. However, now that they have basically gone out and killed all the mature ones there is nothing keeping the population down, so they pretty quickly discover that the whole island is swarming with monsters. Mind you, the other catch was that they only eat their young if there is nothing else to eat, so when the colonists arrive with all their live stock, all of a sudden they have something else to eat.

 

As I mentioned, this book was rather dull and boring, and in fact is the first part of a trilogy. Sure, it did do well to explore how humans have this nasty habit of completely ruining an eco-system with their introduced species. For instance, the landed gentry introduced foxes into Australia simply so they might have something to hunt, and not surprisingly they have gone and run havoc across the environment. Mind you, the farmers then get criticised by the likes of PETA when they try to cull the foxes due to them causing issues with their live stock. Then again, I do see where they're coming from because technically humans are an introduced species, and a pest, but we don't go around culling ourselves.

 

Mind you, the other interesting thing is that we all know that the colony is going to survive, but then again this novel does play out like a movie, and unless the creators are really clever, we never actually have the protagonists lose. Okay, they have to adjust the way the colony works, namely that every man gets to have two wives (namely because half of the male population was wiped out when they went to war against the monsters – they called them Grendels after the monster from Beowulf), however the colony does manage to survive. The other interesting thing is that the planet is ten light years from Earth, and they took a hundred years to get there from Earth, and they are talking about advertising for new colonists. Well, they didn't think that through all that much because first of all it is a twenty year round trip for any communication, and even if another colony ship was sent out, it would take a hundred years for them to arrive, and that doesn't take into account humans developing new technology. Mind you, as yet I don't know of any book where the colonists arrive at a planet after travelling for a hundred years only to discover that while they were asleep humanity has invented the FTL drive and the planet has already been colonised.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1878686760
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review 2017-01-23 21:43
Book Review: Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
Fruit of the Lemon - Andrea Levy

Andrew recommended this to me a while ago and I finally had the chance to read it! I was worried at first, because his last two have been, while very good, incredibly depressing, but this was a whole lot happier and more hopeful than White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, so I can keep on with his recommendations! It’s interesting because Fruit of the Lemon does deal with the same sort of issues as those other two books — namely, what it means to be not-white in a society that favors being white, but it also marries this idea with a young woman’s coming of age. Faith has just graduated college and is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in the world, which is made even more complicated by the fact that it’s harder for her to get the jobs that she wants because of racism and it’s harder for her to embrace her culture when she doesn’t have any friends that come from the same background as her.

 

I appreciated Levy’s ability to take serious concepts while also bringing humor and levity into it. Faith is living in a house with two guys and another girl, and the description of the house is hilarious, grotesque, and all too real of just-graduated-from-college young adults. The hygiene, decorating skills, and overall responsibility skills just aren’t quite there yet, but they’re trying to figure it out; Faith’s dad coming by the house because he was “in the area” is a hilarious moment because of this.

 

The racism in Faith’s workplace was well done — she wanted to be a dresser instead of working in the costume department of a TV station, cataloging costumes. Someone told her they never have “colored” people working those jobs, and when the hiring committee started being unfair to her, she mentioned that and eventually got the job she wanted, but they don’t actually really let her do the job, saying that no shows needed anyone to help dress the actors at the moment. This was much more interesting than Faith not getting the job outright, because it was harder for her to find something to be upset about — she got the job she wanted, they just didn’t need her to do those responsibilities right now. And then, when they do let her work, it’s to dress up dolls for a kid’s show and not actual actors.

 

However, this novel shines with Faith goes to Jamaica and learns about her family. More than anything, this book is about how people become who they are, how they relate to their families, and how family can tie everything together. I loved seeing Faith trace her family tree as each new story about a new relative is told to her, and even though the reader doesn’t get to see much of Faith’s transformation, I felt her becoming more comfortable with herself and who she is with each branch she adds to the tree. Fruit of the Lemon is a beautiful story about family, identity, and culture, and it’s able to tell an important story while still including humorous and touching moments. Along with my husband, I highly recommend reading this book.

Source: www.purplereaders.com/?p=3201
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review 2016-12-31 07:42
Colonisation from the Colonised
Things Fall Apart (African Writers Series: Expanded Edition with Notes) - Chinua Achebe,Simon Gikandi,Don C. Ohadike

Look, I am going to give this book a good rating, not because I actually enjoyed it or was drawn into it, but more because it gives us an insight into the colonial world from the eyes of the people being colonised. This book is set in Nigeria, and is written by a native Nigerian in English (which by the way is his second tongue, though he is also a professor at Brown University). However, one sort of wonders if this example of post-colonial literature is designed to criticise the colonists or the world that is being colonised.

 

 

There is a concept, I believe first coined by Rudyard Kipling, called 'White Man's burden'. This is the idea that the European civilisation has been given the job of taking their civilisation out to the world and raising the non-European races out of barbarity. However, one sort of questions whether this burden, as it is coined, was really the intention of the colonisers, or simply propaganda that was spoken by the imperial overlords. I am inclined to lean towards the second interpretation.

 

 

The reason that I say this is because if we take one case study, that of the Australian aboriginals, we see that white man's burden never actually lifted them out of poverty, and it was not for lack of trying. In fact, the attempts to civilise the aboriginals had almost the opposite effect than was intended. Granted, there is a very small group of aboriginals in our society that have successfully integrated into our culture, but there are still many that haven't. While it is possible to wonder around an Australian city and not actually see aboriginal tribes camping in the city parks, I assure that they are there (and I caution anybody against approaching them 'just to have a look').

 

 

What we see in this book though is a view from inside the culture that is being colonised, and like the aboriginals, it does not work. However, the book is divided into two parts, the first part involves the social collapse of the indigenous culture from within due to its own contradictions, and the second part involves the destruction of the lifestyle and the culture as the imperialists (in the form of missionaries) force their gospel of European Economic prosperity upon them.

 

 

In many ways we like to criticise the imperialists for destroying the natural cultures of the indigenous people, however sometimes it is necessary. There are many aspects of our culture that we take fore-granted, and there are many aspects which are truly barbaric that we simply want to step back and say, 'but that is their culture'. Take the aboriginal act of spearing somebody through the leg for punishment. What is it supposed to do other than cripple the person. Is it supposed to be a deterrent? Well, like most deterrents, it does not work. The death penalty is a deterrent against drug smuggling in Singapore and Bali, but it does not seem to stop people smuggling drugs, or killing people in the United States. What about cutting off the right hand of a thief in some cultures (the right hand being the hand you eat with and the left hand being the hand you wipe your butt with), is that a deterrent, or simply a punishment that literally prevents the person from ever being able to integrate back into society again. We all make mistakes, and one of the good things about our society is that punishment does actually allow people to return and become productive members of society (as has happened with myself).

 

 

Then there are the missionaries, not that I actually have anything against missionaries. Many have suggested though that missionaries are the first wave of colonisation. This means that when the missionaries arrive you can be sure that the merchants, then the army, and finally the colonisers, are close behind. However, I am doubtful that many missionaries, both then and now, ever considered themselves to be the first of a wave of colonists. There are many historical missionaries that actually went out to do what they believe (and I believe) is a good thing. I do not believe it is wrong to offer somebody an alternative to their religion, especially if their religion keeps them living in fear and oppression. However, it is clear, historically, that more scrupulous people have used missionaries as the vanguard for colonial efforts, and when the missionaries were expelled from China, I guess that was one of the reasons for doing so.

 

The title of the novel is about the destruction of the traditional life of the village. To us it is about change, where as to them it is their world that they have lived in for thousands of years being destroyed. Colonialism was always going to happen, and I do not believe that we should not give tribal people the opportunity to experience a new way of life, however I do not believe that we have the right to roll out a monoculture across the world. One thing us Europeans, especially us Christian Europeans, forget is that Christianity was never meant to create a monoculture, but rather it is our stubbornness, and refusal to look outside the narrow box that we surround our lives with our own misguided sense of what is right and what is wrong.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/318431016
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review 2016-09-23 03:28
Book Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant
The Traitor Baru Cormorant - Seth Dickinson

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I think this might be one of the most important books I've ever read. Forget that "genre fiction" disclaimer, this is the real deal. I don't even know what to say. Anything I do say may be too telling.

Okay, I'll say this: this is a story we are, on some level, all familiar with. We know the history of the world. It's written by the winners, and what have the winners, the venerated winners, always done? They've dominated and pillaged in the name of civilizing, saying as they outlaw the customs and dress and language of the Celts, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, insert-a-colonized-people here, that they bring roads, medicine, law, God, correct and decent behavior, and so-on. They've changed the names of mountains, cities, continents. They've played at eugenics, taken children away from parents to be "educated" out of their own customs, culture, their own minds. They've made internment camps, death camps. They've sterilized, enslaved. I could go on.

"And her mother's answering disdain: Go, then. Learn all their secrets. Cover yourself in them. You will return with a steel mask instead of a face."

Baru is someone who grows up in a place where these things are happening, and her story is full of intrigue, rebellion, hope, devastation, love, betrayal, victory and defeat and something in between. She is a glimpse into the divided loyalties and motivations of a person forced to join 'em in order to beat 'em. Maybe. Maybe that's part of what she is, I'm not entirely sure I know. Baru makes my heart and my brain hurt if I think about her too long.

This book is about all that, but it's about so much more. I won't lie, this will knock the wind right out of you. But you won't regret it. It might change something inside of you though, the best books always do. So be prepared for that.

"I will write your name in the ruin of them. I will paint you across history in the color of their blood."

Let's Discuss!

What are your thoughts? Am I over-extolling the virtues here? I'd love to know if any of you had the same gut-punch feeling at the end.

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