Han Kang–Human Acts

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

This book.

Deep Exhale.

This book is a ghost story. To read this book is to experience the mass casualty that overcomes a city in war. We see both sides–from the living and bereaved–trying to find closure in a city building overcome with overflowing death. We see, too, through the blind eyes of a trapped soul, panicking under the press of rot and gore, unable to release himself from the body that no longer lives.

And that is only the beginning.

This book is a ghost story–and there are so many ghosts. There are only 218 pages, but I could not read this for more than a few minutes at a time without putting my bookmark in and just breathing. I could not cry because I felt like every emotion I had was sucked right out of me.

I’m not sure how to describe this book–beautiful? amazing? great? All of those words could fit but mostly it just tore me to shreds. This short book is exhausting to read and in literature that is the exact opposite of a negative review. Just be prepared when you go into this. Han Kang does not need to waste 500 pages on dramatic world-building, she can do it in a whisper. You will be haunted by Human Acts. This book is a ghost story.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Hogarth for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

Read the World:  South Korea

DiversityBingo2017:  NonWestern Real World Setting

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Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance

In 1975, in an unidentified Indian city, Mrs Dina Dalal, a financially pressed Parsi widow in her early 40s sets up a sweatshop of sorts in her ramshackle apartment. Determined to remain financially independent and to avoid a second marriage, she takes in a boarder and two Hindu tailors to sew dresses for an export company. As the four share their stories, then meals, then living space, human kinship prevails and the four become a kind of family, despite the lines of caste, class and religion. When tragedy strikes, their cherished, newfound stability is threatened, and each character must face a difficult choice in trying to salvage their relationships.

I will never be amazed at how much books surprise me sometimes. Rohinton Mistry was recommended to me as a key Indian author, but I’ve never much been interested in books written about the 70s, so I was hesitant to read this. When I saw how BIG this book was…I won’t lie–I put this thing off until it was absolutely due at the library, and even then I extended my contract.

951 pages later (I mistakenly got the large print version, I think the regular one is only 600), I have laughed, cried, gasped, and near made myself sick over this book. Mistry has sewn together a quilt of patches from poverty to familial abuse, from fascist regimes to mob bosses. I expected India to seem as far away as 1975–decades and countries away. Certainly something I needed to learn about, but I didn’t think I would be able to relate to quite so much. But this story resonated in so many ways with what is happening in the United States today–this book was a little TOO real.

It was also impossible not to fall in love with the characters. Mistry flips prejudice and privilege on its head because the people he wants you to see aren’t the rich and freshly-bathed, but the beggars and Untouchables–those who most disregard completely. Dina struggles over and over with her prejudice against the tailors–she is us, our wrinkled nose and closed door. There are also those who are obsessed with political movements, and those who are being affected by the horrific changes by the massive changes made by the government…and those who just don’t seem to care at all what is going on until it is too late.

A Fine Balance is two things. It IS a brilliant book about Indian culture in the 1970s. I learned so much about the country and amazingly diverse people that I did not know before. But this book is also us, in our country, right now. It’s on my list of books kids should be reading in school but would never be allowed. I know it’s long, but devote some time this year for this one. It’s worth it.

DiversityBingo2017:  Indian MC Own Voices

Read Around the World:  India

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Eunsun Kim: A Thousand Miles to Freedom

Eunsun Kim was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. As a child Eunsun loved her country…despite her school field trips to public executions, daily self-criticism sessions, and the increasing gnaw of hunger as the country-wide famine escalated.

By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun’s father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun too was in danger of starving. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.

Now, in A Thousand Miles to Freedom, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

I’ve been listening to Eunsun’s story on audiobook for the last few weeks, and every day I have been struck by the incredible strength and bravery of this woman. She was so young when her journey started, and how she managed to keep going, I do not myself understand.

Eunsun Kim’s mission with her book is to bring global awareness to the horrors of North Korea. Writing a book like this is dangerous–she says at the beginning that she had to change names so that people she wrote about could not be connected–but she wants to make sure that outsiders understand exactly what is happening there.

Before listening to this, I really didn’t know much about North Korea, besides what we hear on the news. I’ll be picking up more books to this nature–there are so many stories that need to be heard.

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Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

THE KITE RUNNER WAS BANNED FOR DEPICTIONS OF HOMOSEXUALITY, OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE, RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS, AND SEXUALLY EXPLICIT SCENES. (Tolerance.Org)

UGLY CRYING.

My friends warned me. When they found out I was reading this book, they told me how sad it was. But I had tried to read it years ago, and marked it Did Not Finish, so I wasn’t expecting an emotional reaction.

UGLY CRYING.

From the very first, the relationships in this book are special. The bond between Hassan and Amir is so tightly knit and beautiful, even before anything happens in the story, you get sort of weepy at their youth. Maybe it is because boys in America are discouraged from showing that much open affection towards each other. Girls, certainly, but boys…nope. They wrestle and fight, but to love each other in friendship that way–we usually don’t even see brothers that affectionate anymore. So this book resonates with us. It’s healthy, this strong male bond.

UGLY CRYING.

Then things go SO topsy turvy, in the absolute worst ways possible. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Reading books like The Kite Runner are so important, because most of our media twisted us into thinking all Afghan people were/are evil. The enemy. But Khaled Hosseini shows how many were victims too. This wasn’t solely a war on Americans–the war started in their home first.

UGLY CRYING.

This book has everything you’d expect from one set in a war torn country:  abuse, execution, rape. But it also has an enormous amount of compassion. And that is what will make you so emotional–not the shock and violence, those alone just make me sick, but the passion and love that the characters continue to carry throughout.

UGLY CRYING.

This was the perfect book to end Banned Books Week and kick off #OwnVoicesOctober. I have a few ARCs, but otherwise I will be reading almost all books like The Kite Runner–books written by authors with the same experience. If you have suggestions for books written by POC, LGBTQA, or authors with mental illness, please let me know.

Who are you reading for #OwnVoicesOctober?

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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This book reminds me of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, in that it feels a lot older than it actually is. It was written in 2005, but as I was reading it, I thought it was actually written decades ago. Of course, it makes sense later, when the epilogue skips to 1960–but the text reads like much older literature than this millennium for sure.

The story itself is extremely complicated, with layers upon layers that build until the climax at the end. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because there is just too much to discover here on your own, but it’s definitely one of those stories you have to focus on. It doesn’t hurt to take notes either. You never know when something insignificant might come back up again!

These historical fiction mysteries are always good for a brain workout. Goodreads has this listed as Fantasy too, but I don’t see how that is an applicable genre for this book. Definitely interesting, though, and one to pick up if you’re looking for something dark and thrilling, without being gory or overly scary.

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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

When I added my Read Around the World books to Goodreads, of course I started at the top and worked my way down. So, naturally, when I went to request the first from the library…number one showing was Zimbabwe. Clearly I didn’t think that through, but I never said I had to go in any certain order. After all, I technically started in the middle with Norway!

I knew absolutely zero about Zimbabwe when I started When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, except that it is a country in Africa. I knew vaguely the area it was in, but can’t really point to it on the map. That’s the whole point of this RATW journey though, to learn what I did not know.

Sometimes education can be very uncomfortable, and such was Peter Godwin’s narrative. In the US, white over black racism is a HUGE issue (really white over any other race, but specifically the persecution of blacks). As a white person in this country, I have had to work really hard, am still working very hard every day to suppress the racism that society has ingrained in me. I hate it, it’s awful, but I know it’s there and so I just have to keep trying to be better.

Because of that, I wanted to call bullshit on the first half of Godwin’s book. He started talking about the war and politics in Zimbabwe, then completely cut away to talk about his dad’s history in WWII and the Holocaust. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that he was drawing parallels to his father’s Polish heritage to the Zimbabwean persecution of whites and…wait…what? It screamed reverse racism. But that’s not real? Right?

But in the second half of the narrative, he really focused on how the government was tearing down the economy for everyone–forcing former black workers to take advantage of their white employers, shutting down farms so no one can work, whites or blacks, even confiscating animals for “Animal Cruelty,” just based on who owns them. Food and gas were forced into a black market system, and the corrupt government ran on bribes. Still though, the focus seemed to be that whites were being persecuted harder as the government tried to take Africa back from those who had colonized them.

There’s a moment when Godwin tries to buy groceries for his mother and is unable to, but a well-dressed black woman takes the bill. His mother responds with, “Many a time we have done that for a black person struggling to pay.” Everything is turned upside down.

This left me with a lot of complicated emotions–which really, is a good thing. On an issue such as racism, you SHOULD feel a lot of complicated emotions. It should tear you up, and this did. It’s a strong book for someone of my background to read, because it only further educates me on how it feels to be on the other side of the coin.

I do want to explore more about Zimbabwe, and maybe read something from someone else’s point of view. I need to know if this is jaded from a white man’s perspective. I’d like to think it’s not, but…well.

If you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them.

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A Doll’s House

One of my goals for 2016 is to begin reading around the world. I’ve began a list of books from every UN recognized country and while I won’t get through them all this year, I want to make a dent at least.

My first country is Norway with A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. This three act play portrays a Victorian marriage troubled by debt. According to Wikipedia, Ibsen was inspired by the belief that “a woman cannot be herself in modern society,” since it is “an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.” The play was extremely controversial because (old-time book spoiler alert) the wife, Nora, leaves her husband and children at the end of the play to find a life for herself.

I was extremely bored throughout this whole thing. All of the conversations, save one, are about money. And the one that IS about illicit romance ends in extremely anti-climactic suicide. I mean, the couple KNOW their friend is on his way to kill himself, and they simply go on with their argument instead.

Um, hello? Goddamn Victorians.

Check one off for Norway, I guess. As in literally, one.

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