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review 2018-03-15 17:29
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

It took me almost four months to read Pachinko. As I read, I began wondering about my slow pace. My fall semesters are busier, yes, but I still manage to finish most books in what's a timely manner for me. It certainly wasn't because I found the book hard to read in terms of comprehension or engagement. As I got closer to the end, I realized: it was because I was so invested in the characters and storytelling I had to take time to process the intense feelings the novel evoked. There are also regular gaps in time that take place between chapters where characters' situations change significantly; I needed mental space before diving into the story again. I can't think of another novel that required this sort of reading from me.


In addition to Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Pachinko has served to establish that "family sagas" can engage me, or at least when another culture is involved. Through the family portrayed here, I learned more about Korea, but it never feels like a history lesson. Everything comes from the characters. The novel also provokes thought about national and racial identity.


There were moments I dreaded, as with the return of a less sympathetic character, though not in a way that made me dislike the novel or its author. There were moments that shocked me to the point of gasping. There are many scenes that easily and vividly come to mind when I recall my reading, which I finished more than a month ago.


I would love to teach this novel. I have the feeling I may reread it some day, regardless. For me, that's a rarity, a compliment, and a sign of deep gratitude. 

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review 2018-03-02 05:28
Bandi's Accusation - I wasn't prepared for how excellent every single story is.
The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea - Deborah Smith,Bandi

Finally this came out in the US, then it came out in paperback (my preferred way to own books) and then I waited over two months to actually read it. There is an incredibly interesting and important story surrounding this publication. I'll be honest - that's the reason I wanted to read it. I sort of discarded much of the hype because it's an historical book, and that was what a lot of reviews stressed.

I wasn't prepared for how excellent every single story is. This is really good, nuanced, realistic fiction. There's a broad range of stories here from a wide variety of characters. Politics yes, but also parenting/grand-parenting/being parented, love, betrayal, family, honor, farm life to the big city - it's all here in these stories.

I don't read Korean, so I can't compare, but in terms of coming across as an original voice without making it bland or overstuffing it with words to remind us that this started in another language, this is one of the best translations I've read in a long time too.

Usually when I read collected short stories, I have a favorite. I honestly can't pick here. There are stories that will touch you no matter who you are or whether or not you care about politics. While the DPRK is a main player in some stories, it serves only as a specter shaping the rest, like any world in any fiction. These are human stories more than North Korean, and in the end that's what makes this such a terrific read.

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text 2018-02-19 19:38
Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 176 pages.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea - Guy Delisle


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text 2018-02-13 01:07
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 176 pages.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea - Guy Delisle

while all eyes are on South Korea, I'll be sneaking into--ack!

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review 2017-05-25 00:00
All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea
All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea - Magnus Bärtås,Fredrik Ekman,Saskia Vogel If you don't know much about North Korea (which I don't), this is a solid if somewhat whimisically organised introduction to the country's history and culture. It's set in two frames: a tour the authors went on, and the country's film industry, especially as it related to the kidnapping of two South Korean directors. As much as I might have appreciated something more straightforwardly chronological, I found this book very interesting, and it did answer most of my questions.
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