Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Reading the World - South Korea


The Girl who Wrote Loneliness , Kyung-Sook Shin

“This book … turned out to be not quite fact and not quite fiction …. I wonder if it can be called literature.”    The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, Kyung-Sook Shin

My 40th book of 2021 and taking me to almost 17,000 pages read.

I have lived in the United States, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China.

I have worked in the United States, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China.  If you include volunteer work, then I also can include Brasil.  

So when I decided to expand my reading to purposely seek out authors from around the globe, I decided I should start with where I lived and worked, then expand to other places.  I have read tons of books written by authors from the USA and Canada.  And I’ve read books written by Mexican Authors, Brazilian Authors and Chinese Authors.  Missing from my reading menagerie were authors from South Korea, Hong Kong and Ecuador.  

How does one choose a book to read.  We all know the familiar adage “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” but I must confess, sometimes I do choose a book to read because of the cover.  Other times I choose a book because it’s title intrigues me and sometimes it is just a feeling.

With “The Girl Who wrote Loneliness” I chose the book because it’s author was South Korean and the title intrigued me.  I’m glad I did

I moved to South Korea in August, 2009 and lived there until February, 2011.  This book is sort of historical fiction and describes a South Korea I never knew mixed with a South Korea I encountered.  How much of the history is truly South Korean history and how much is fiction?   I do not know.  The book describes a South Korea before it's democracy evolved.  People were poor, and worked hard to get an education and improve their economic conditions.  Were conditions in South Korea in the 1980s as described?  

The book follows the life of a young girl who moves from the rural countryside to Seoul to live, work and study.  The story is told by an author who is writing a historical fiction account of those days of her youth.  I don't know the socio-economic history of South Korea to separate the fact from fiction.  I did try to look up an author mentioned in the book and couldn't find anything so even though the person seems real in the book, I now presume she was created for the story.

If you have lived in South Korea in the 21st Century but not earlier, then you should enjoy learning more of Korean culture before South Korea's hard earned economic rise.  The book is captivating and a drama.  It provides insight to a culture very different from the west.  

NOTE:  From Wikipedia:  "Kyung-Sook Shin is a South Korean writer. She is the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize [ in 2012 for 'Please Look After Mom'. ]"

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton - a review


Guilty Pleasures   ranked 82nd on Modern Library's 100 Best Novel's of the 20th Century Reader's List.  I have been making my way through the Modern Library List and Guilty Pleasures was my 95th book to read from that list (actually there are more than 100 books on the list since number 9 on the list is The Books of the Mission Earth Dekalogy by L. Ron Hubbard.  So I guess Guilty Pleasures was maybe the 104th book I read?  

Anyway, the Reader's List is a easier to read list than the Board's List (also more than 100 since it also includes some multiple book series).  You won't find Sci-fi and Fantasy on the Board list but they are prevalent on the Reader's List.

For Guilty Pleasures you can think Buffy the Vampire Slayer (old TV series) with a twist.  It was a fun book to read but won't win many literary awards like the Pulitzer Prize.  But if you want entertaining, then it's a good read.  It was probably more of a novelty when it was written than it is today when you have many competing novels of a similar genre such as Cassandra Clare.  If you like Cassandra Clare's novels, you'll probably like Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" novels.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Reading the World: Antarctica

 The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventures to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

When I decided to start trying to read books written by authors from around the world, I had to decide where to begin.  How do I break the world down into manageable segments?  

There are 7 Continents:

    1.    Africa
    2.    Antarctica
    3.    Asia
    4.    Australia or Oceania
    5.    Europe
    6.    North America, and 
    7.    South America

I had read books written by an author from each continent except Antarctica.  The reason is pretty obvious - there are no authors from Antarctica since it is uninhabited except for Science Research bases.  So I decided to include books written by or about people who have visited / spent time in Antarctica.

I explored books searching Antarctica and found this one that had an intriguing title.  So I read it.

The Stowaway is about a Young Polish American William Gawronski who was determined to join Admiral Richard Byrd's American Exploration trip to Antarctica by stowing away on one of the vessels.  I would call it semi-biographical because by the time the book was written, the subject was deceased and information for the book was gathered from newspaper accounts and by interviewing people who knew "Billy" including his second wife and son.  Clearly there would be gaps in knowledge filled in by the author.  There is only a little information on his time in Antarctica.  

While the book wasn't the best written, it did provide an interesting insight into an historical event - the first American exploration of Antarctica from a unique angle - that of a young, Polish American who initially stowed away on a vessel.

  I plan to read another book (or two) based on first hand accounts of Antarctica before I cross Antarctica off my list of Continents.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review: Chronicles of the Invaders

 The Chronicles of the Invaders trilogy by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

I have read John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels for years.  Those are crime / suspense / with a touch of Dean Koontz supernatural thrown in.  John is from Ireland.  His partner, Jennifer Ridyard is British born but grew up in South Africa; currently she resides with John in Ireland.

So when I saw a Sci-Fi series by Connolly I was intrigued.

The three books are:

1. Conquest - it revolves around an alien species conquering Earth and the resistance that                   forms

2. Empire - the focus shifts somewhat to a split among the Aliens and an uneasy alliance between Earth resistance and some factions of the Alien Invaders against the                            other ruling faction; and 

3. Dominion - the finale.  I won’t tell you how it ends.

The trilogy was an interesting and entertaining read.  I won’t say they are my favorite Sci-fi book series I’ve read but they certainly are not the worst.  There are elements of overcoming prejudices, building trust, deception and betrayals, and love / romance.  

If you enjoy action, suspense, romance and Sci-fi all thrown together, then you will probably enjoy this trilogy.

They are a departure from the normal books one expects from John Connolly but not an unpleasant departure.  

Friday, March 5, 2021

Review: Mexican Gothic - Stephen King meets Celeste Ng

 Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This book was voted "best" by Goodreads' readers in 2020 yet it only have a 3.75 or so rating there which is a bit confusing.  Guess the readers who voted in the awards loved it (5 star) while those who didn't vote for it rated it somewhere similar to me - I gave it a 3 Star - I liked it but I didn't really like it (4 star) or love it (5 star).  Maybe I am a conservative rater on books.  If I can quit reading it to switch to another book (I almost always have more 1 book I am reading at a given time) then it is not a 5, maybe not a 4.  

Silvia writes very well so it was the plot that failed to captivate me.  I liked it but I didn't love it so much I was absorbed by it.  I titled it Stephen King (Horror) meets Celeste Ng "Little Fires Everywhere".  

 If you enjoy reading horror (and I do) then give this one a go.  You'll meet at least one creepy character along the way.


Books Read in 2021:  34 books, 14,614 pages (per GoodReads); 26 Authors, 10 or 11 nationalities (Is Ayn Rand Russian or American?) and 12 of the 26 authors have been female.  Only 1 book was targeted because it was written by a foreign author from a country I hadn't previously read anything.  I am now up to 29 nations at least from which I have read a book written by an author from that country.

Currently reading:  Spain - The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; India:  A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, American - Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis  none of which were chosen because of the author's nationality.  They were already on my Best Books list to read.  South Korea - The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-Sook Shin was chosen because she is an author from a country where I once lived but haven't read anything written from an author from there.  

I have lived in The United States,  Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and China.  I've read books written by authors from all of these except South Korea and Hong Kong (I list Hong Kong separately from China because they have a different culture and are supposed to be governed separately from China (SAR) however China has acted recently in a way to kill that independence.  

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Book Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf - Marlon James

 Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

It wasn’t my cup of tea.

It’s the first book I’ve read by Marlon James but, for me, it was just passable.  A friend of mine loved it so perhaps you will.

For me, the story seemed to be amiss - more of a shock novel with gratuitous use of vulgar language and sex similar to some other novels I read but never felt a connection with such as Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller although the plot of Tropic of Cancer was easier to follow.

I have always seen Vulgarity as unnecessary - an intelligent person can express his or her ideas without resorting to vulgar language.  At the same time, I understand that what is vulgar, obscene or taboo varies by culture and indeed by person.  

For me, the book didn’t tell a compelling story - it just wasn’t there for me.  If I removed the overuse of vulgar language, the story still doesn’t engage me.  I don't like to "ruin" a book by revealing too much but the story in essence follows the life of a man who finds people using paranormal ability and his trips which are always violent - lots of killing.   

Anyway, this was my first novel by an author originally from Jamaica although Marlon James now resides in the US.   

Currently reading Mexican Gothic by Canadian-Mexican author Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1925 Pulitzer Award), The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spanish author who died in 2020 from cancer) and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth of India.  Also just started The Girl who wrote Loneliness by South Korean Author Kyung-Sook Shin - the only book I'm reading now to expand my diversity of world authors although as you can see my other selections are diverse also.

I have now read books written by Authors from 29 different countries (at least).  I'm still cataloging.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park - North Korea

 In Order to Live - Yeonmi Park / Park Yeonmi

“We all have our own deserts.  They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose life and be free.”

“We weren’t capable of critical thinking because we had been trained not to ask questions.” 

“The regime wants us to be like cells in a single organism, where no unit can exist without the others…”

"I was taught never to express my opinion, never to question anything.  I was taught to simply follow what the government told me to do or say or think.”

“…is not enough for the government to control where you go, what you learn, where you work, and what you say.  They need to control you through your emotions, making you a slave to the state by destroying your individuality, …”

In Order to Live is an autobiographical  account of a young girl’s life in North Korea and her escape with her mother into China where she and her mother became sex slaves in essence before eventually finding her way to South Korea - a place she had learned to fear growing up in North Korea.  South Korea and the USA were the vilest nations on earth according to the propaganda she was taught and at one time believed.

The book isn’t the best written book, but what can you expect from a young girl who at 13 left her native country, suffered emotional trauma, and eventually made it to South Korea at the age of 15 with only the equivalent education of First or Second Grade.  The fact she was able to write a book a few years later is remarkable.  She more or less taught herself by reading after arriving in South Korea.  In about two years time she managed to pass the Korean GED and get admitted into a prestigious South Korean University where she again turned to books to improve her levels including learning English.

It was during her university years that she became "an activist”, speaking out for North Korean citizens who manage to escape but also against the human rights violations in North Korea and China including human trafficking.

I started this review with some quotes from her book that should resonant with people.  Read her book.  It isn’t written in the style of a Margaret Atwood or other highly polished author, but it tells her story in a way that is real.  Everyone should read it and think about the world it reveals.

It was interesting to note that she and I arrived in South Korea at almost the same time - August of 2009.  As far as I know, our paths never crossed.  I moved to South Korea to teach English and lived in Ansan while she lived in Asan.  I left in 2011 while she moved to the US in 2014.

I also lived and taught in China from 2013 to 2020.  I have been to some of the places she mentions in her book and know of others from people I met and got to know in China.  The corruption in China is less than before but it still exists.  There are good and bad people everywhere.  There are people who exploit others everywhere.

Other books you might want to read if you like her book.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban co-written with Christina Lamb.

Grey is the Color of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya - Soviet Poet and Christian who escaped after years of oppression. 

I have now read books written by authors from 28 different Countries.  

Reading the World - South Korea

  The Girl who Wrote Loneliness  ,  Kyung-Sook Shin “This book … turned out to be not quite fact and not quite fiction …. I wonder if it can...