Currently Reading: Trigger Warnings

Me while I’m trying to finish this short story / “poetry” collection

50% done, let’s hope I can hang in there the next 50%…

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The Girl with Seven Names: Review

9780007554867_s260x420Title: The Girl with Seven Names
Author: Hyeonseo Lee
Genre: Autobiography
Country: North Korea
Rating: 3/5

Hyeonseo Lee gives readers a glimpse into her life. Born and raised in North Korea, she introduces the outside world to the abuse of her government. Always paranoid and suspicious of others, North Korean members of society must always be vigilant in making sure that they are consistently loyal to the government. Every neighbor is a spy. Even the government officials are on the prowl wanting to catch anyone in a lie or in a position where they are demoted in social status.

In order to survive, many citizens resort to smuggling in goods from China or Japan in order to sell on black markets in North Korea. While frowned upon, most smugglers have money to ensure their safety from the government via bribes. By all accounts, Lee’s position in North Korea is very privileged. She touches on the Great Famine of the 1990’s and how that doesn’t directly affect her food source, but how it affects those less fortunate. Many people die and they die in the public view, and the tragedy of a government that doesn’t respond to the suffering of their people.

Eventually, Lee escapes North Korea and has to endure China’s policies on refugees from NK, which aren’t friendly. She must survive by hiding constantly. Luckily she has assistance but it doesn’t diminish how difficult it is to truly escape NK.

In escaping, she experiences guilt in leaving her family behind. Nevertheless, the human will proves resilient and she learns how to live as best she can where she is.

Lee’s story is dramatic and very lucky. She finds help in unexpected places more than once. It also calls into question a country’s response to someone fleeing from an abusive country/government. Is it moral to turn someone away, to return them back to the dystopian government? Even China expresses remorse for their past policies. Lee navigates this question gracefully but does not shy away from the details that caused her life havoc.

While I learned a lot about how North Korea operates, the reason I give this book a 3 is for the writing style. It’s very straightforward, very bland at some points. Although it’s a page turner, certain things become trite, such as the habit of ending a chapter with something like, “I would soon realize things could get worse.” It happens so often that I often scoffed at the writing. And there are a few threads left untied, which happens, but the book ends rather abruptly.

I appreciate this book in its entirety, however, and recommend it to readers curious about North Korea. I believe we should not make fun of NK based on their success rate of keeping their citizens oppressed. This book made me realize that the people of other countries must make laws to help refugees and people in need; while there may be international laws that aide people like Lee now, we must make sure as global citizens to not let our own rulers close the door to safety. NK is a serious human rights issue and Lee’s account sheds light to that.

A Tale for the Time Being: Review

Ozeki writes through the lens of her 16-year-old protagonist and her family’s recent relocation back to Japan. Nao is a very straightforward but comical narrator; somehow Ozeki pulls off writing about very triggering topics such as suicide in a serious but “lighthearted” manner. The first half of the book is very easy to read; it’s very fast paced and keeps you alert. The second half is just as good but the writing style turns much darker very fast. I even had to put the book down a couple of times just to refocus myself.

This story is about cruelty. Cruelty of a world pushing you to the brink of you wanting to exist; cruelty of people who refuse to accept you; cruelty of corporations and their greed by refusing to respect your hesitancy in gaining profits through war. It’s about people pushing back from the status quo that is accepting war, accepting torture, accepting executions, etc. And in a way, this story is very much about life. There are several characters that interweave through time and they all respect life so much but yet nearly all face the choice of having to or wanting to kill themselves.

It is very easy to connect with Nao; her narration style is very informal and engaging. Anyone who’s gone through high school knows how cruel other students can be to one another and how important it is to reject bullying. It’s very heartbreaking to see how much her life is ruined because of her classmates and her continual struggle to pull herself back to the surface. Nao isn’t a perfect character and I really appreciate how Ozeki characterizes her callousness toward her father’s troubles. Bullying is a circle and the bullied can also create cruelty unto others.

Ozeki submerges the reader in Japanese culture. If you have the Kindle version as I do, the links to the notes come in very handy and I suggest that you read this book in its entirety which includes the appendix. The novel also submerges the reader in Zen Buddhism which I believe helps keep the novel’s peace. There are very dark times but I began to rely on some breathing techniques mentioned in the book and found it easier to read during the second half.

This book will probably be triggering; Ozeki does not shy away from the harsh reality of the world which entails: sexual assault, rape, suicide, war, and genocide. At the end of the day you realize how cruel the world actually is, how cruel people can be (which is an astonishing amount). And then you must make a decision on how you respond to the cruelty around you.

A Tale for the Time Being has some fantastic quotes. Some of my favorite are:
“What is the half-life of information?”

“During the physical examination in October, the recruiting officer ordered us to “switch off our hearts and minds completely.” He instructed us to cut off our love and sever our attachment with our family and blood relations because from now on we were soldiers and our loyalty must lie solely with our Emperor and our homeland of Japan. I remember listening to this and thinking that I could never comply, but I was wrong. In trying to stop your tears, I was already obeying the officer’s command to the letter, not out of patriotic allegiance, but out of cowardice, in order not to feel the pain of my own heart, breaking.”

“Think about it. Where do words come from? They come from the dead. We inherit them. Borrow them. Use them for a time to bring the dead to life.”

“Killing people should not be so much fun.”

“If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.”

A wonderful book and a must-read. 5/5

Homegoing: a Review

Gyasi really showcases her writing capabilities in Homegoing. Readers begin with two sisters and how their paths diverge: one becoming sold into slavery and shipped off to America, and the other remaining within Ghana. From there, each chapter introduces someone new who is related to the two sisters. And from there readers explore an entire line of ancestry.

The writing style is beautiful and the story in its entirety flows very well. Each chapter basically functions as a short story, but the tie-ins are very prominent so it helps to have that back-end knowledge. While for me it was hard getting into all of the chapters since I would form connections with other characters, it was still rewarding. Gyasi’s message really hit home with me.

Nearing the end of the book I stopped and it just hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized suddenly that while now it’s generally unacceptable to sell people into slavery and there’s no breaking up of families in that regard, that families today suffer so much because the likelihood of being reunited with unknown family members is highly impossible. You might have family still in Ghana while the other half of your family is in the States and you might never know it. What an intense, scary, and tremendously terrible feeling! Gyasi does very well to point this out and to showcase the different struggles, particularly the black experience in America.

The Ghana lore from the Asante tribe is wonderful and moving. It also put things in perspective for me as I was already familiar with the spider god, Anasi thanks to the novel by Gaiman, Anasi Boys. But knowing the different traditions within a tribe and how slavery and white America has taken away that unique-ness of African-Americans is very sad. One quote sums it up from the book: “black is just black.” It’s very similar treatment America gives their own indigenous community with the blanket term of Native American without recognizing the different tribes. Seems to be a theme.

Some of my favorite quotes include:
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

“You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.”

“The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.”

“The British had no intention of leaving Africa, even once the slave trade ended. They owned the Castle, and, though they had yet to speak it aloud, they intended to own the land as well.”

“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man.”

“The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what? So what? Who told them what a witch was?”

“Forgiveness, they shouted, all the while committing their wrongs. When he was younger, Yaw wondered why they did not preach that the people should avoid wrongdoing altogether. Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future. And if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.”

5/5 from me – a very insightful and impacting novel with a wonderful story!

the continuation

Continuing to read Homegoing, still fabulous, still in love.

Right now I’m perusing GoodReads in pursuit of adding more books from different countries to my collection. While I definitely haven’t hit every country that stars with A or B, I’m on the C’s right now in the genre section and I think I’m going to be falling head over heels in love with Chinese literature. I can’t remember the last time I read something set in China or by a Chinese author! (shame)

The Country Challenge is slowly being set in motion one book at a time!

Master List

A

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Algeria
  • Andorra
  • Angola
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Australia TRULY MADLY GUILTY
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan

B

  • Bahamas
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Barbados
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Belize
  • Benin
  • Bhutan
  • Bolivia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi

C

  • Cabo Verde
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Canada SLEEPING GIANTS
  • Central African Republic (CAR)
  • Chad
  • Chile
  • China RED SCARF GIRL
  • Colombia
  • Comoros
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Costa Rica
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Croatia
  • Cuba
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic

D

  • Denmark
  • Djibouti
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic

E

  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • El Salvador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Estonia
  • Ethiopia

F

  • Fiji
  • Finland
  • France

G

  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Ghana HOMEGOING
  • Greece
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Guyana

H

  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Hungary

I

  • Iceland
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy

J

K

  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan

L

M

  • Macedonia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Mali
  • Malta
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia
  • Moldova
  • Monaco
  • Mongolia
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar (Burma)

N

O

  • Oman

P

  • Pakistan
  • Palau
  • Palestine
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal

Q

  • Qatar

R

  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Rwanda

S

  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • San Marino
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Senegal
  • Serbia
  • Seychelles
  • Sierra Leone
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Solomon Islands
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea THE VEGETARIAN
  • South Sudan
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Swaziland
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Syria

T

  • Taiwan
  • Tajikistan
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Timor-Leste
  • Togo
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Tuvalu

U

V

  • Vanuatu
  • Vatican City (Holy See)
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam

Y

  • Yemen

Z

  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Tidewater: Review

Tidewater by Libbie Hawker explores Pocahontas’ life. Starting from early childhood when John Smith arrives and following Amonute (one of Pocahontas’ actual names) until death, Hawker does not disappoint in showcasing what we know about Algonquian culture. From richly described rituals to fashion, readers get it all. (Note: even Hawker admits that some of these rituals are fictitious, made up because of how little we know about the rituals and rites of Algonquian women; in reading this book please be aware that it does not fully reflect true culture and should be read as mostly fiction).

Hawker uses some myths to her advantage, such as Pocahontas saving John Smith (most historians agree that this likely did not happen at all). Just as she uses myths, Hawker definitely goes out of her way to show the truth as much as she can. Readers will engage in the struggles between the tribe and the white man (man is appropriate as the colony was established without women or children until they reached better security). Hawker does not leave out the details either, particularly in the latter half of the novel where we witness terrible atrocities.

The beginning part of the novel is much weaker than the last half of the novel. In the beginning, Hawker doesn’t trust her audience and continues to use very weak verbs. Much of the descriptions should have been cut down. I think that this book was much than it should have been if we focus on details alone. Certainly the details about Pocahontas’ lifestyle, beliefs, traditions, etc., are appropriate and wonderful, but Hawker enjoys describing typical seasonal scenery in an unusual depth.

If you make it to the latter half of the novel, this is when Hawker really shows off her writing capabilities. We see the true struggle emerge between the tribe and the white colony; we see different plots, better writing in general, and true reactions/horrors the characters must face. The battle comes alive and meets a tragic end for Pocahontas. We see racism at its finest in England when she visits, and we see the hope die with her. Peace as it was momentarily realized, can not and did not last.

Considering my struggles through the first half, while assessing my appreciation for Hawker’s obvious research (not only in the Algonquian names, but the way she changes characters’ names as with tradition, and how she does not stray from writing about other very real people that shaped the Tidewater area), I give this book a 3/5 stars. If you can stick with the writing in the first half and the frustration of Hawker insisting on telling you what you already know, the second half is definitely worth it. If a writer’s purpose is to engage the reader and make them want to learn even more about their subject, then I think Hawker’s done a wonderful job at just that: I want to know more about the tribal lifestyle, rituals, and rites. This is a good fictional book to introduce you to important people and ways of the tribe along with showing you the realities of the struggle.

 

Currently continuing Tidewater. The subject fascinates me, of course, but damn the writing. Can we just give a shout out to authors that actually TRUST their readers? Tidewater is all about pointing out the obvious and not letting readers use their minds. And it’s a very dull read so far. Also why the hell do we have Smith’s perspective? No one cares about Smith. We’ve known his story for centuries…

An Unnecessary Woman: Review

Alameddine introduces readers to an elderly woman named Aaliya who is divorced and lives alone in her beloved city Beirut. She translates books (usually first translated into English or French) into Arabic and stores them in a small closet, never mentioning her work to anyone.

The book follows her thoughts and what’s happening around her. Readers may be frustrated by the book because: 1. Alameddine enjoys writing the way Aaliya’s mind works which is usually very jumpy and interrupting, 2. Aaliya is very widely read in all world literature and consistently employees quotes or opinions on pieces of work or the authors.

If you as a reader are not well read in terms of world literature, this will be a difficult book for you to follow as it was for me.

The writing style is definitely different. Alameddine never once separates the book by chapters so that it is a long-flowing narrative. It’s a very interesting and intriguing choice to me and I know he does it on purpose. Perhaps to see how the flow of life is continuous and never pausing.

As frustrating as it may be to keep up with Aaliya’s wonderful but choppy mind, she’s a character that instills admiration. She breaks cultural norms and barriers, she’s an independent woman living by herself through times of war and beyond, she’s very highly educated of her own accord, and she’s very determined. Even at her lowest while the spark may dim, it’s never all lost.

For me personally this book was very hard to get through. Page 200 and beyond is written more cohesively and it’s paced better. Although I wouldn’t say I personally enjoyed or liked the book, I respect it very highly and that’s why I rate it 3.5-4/5 stars.

I can’t just give one number because Alammedine writes very thought provoking, beautiful sentences like:

“Does reliability reinforce your illusion of control? If so, I wonder if in developed countries (I won’t use the hateful term civilized), the treacherous, illusion-crushing process of aging is more difficult to bear.

He huffs and puffs, displays the anger of Achilles and the countenance of the little pig.

“The peasantry, when it wishes to escape peasantry, has always, for centuries, across all borders, escaped into a uniform.
Alain Robbe-Grillet once wrote that the worst thing to happen to the novel was the arrival of psychology. You can assume he meant that now we all expect to understand the motivation behind each character’s actions, as if that’s possible, as if life works that way.

“One reason we desire explanations is that they separate us and make us feel safe …

If you think that Marcello of The Conformist becomes a porcine fascist because he killed lizards when he was a boy, then you assure yourself that you can never be so.
Even though I may not ever read the above mentioned authors, Alammedine does well to make his point when he wants to through Aaliya, which makes the novel more bearable and readable. But he doesn’t do this every time, and therefore I feel as if I missed an entire universe-layer of the book that I have to discover first in order to get everything out of An Unnecessary Woman.
In lieu of the many thought provoking sentences, the very bold claims (such as relating Noah’s ark to nazi philosophy), I’ve rated it higher than I feel as if I enjoyed it. But that’s the old argument of art, isn’t it? Is art for the masses or is it for the very well educated? Obviously this book makes its own decision and is destined for more enjoyment by the latter.