Trying to Keep Up – Turning the Pages

How do you like your books – hard cover with pages to bend over, electronic on a phone or pad, plugged into your ears? Mine come in all flavors – three I am reading now:

Hardback:

160px-Free_Food_for_Millionaires   After finishing and enjoying Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I found her first novel – Free Food for Millionaires – and am now ensconced in her beautiful language and another tale of Korean immigrants – this time in New York City.

“…a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world with focus on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction.”

So far, Casey has graduated from Princeton, been thrown out of her father’s house for disrespect, finds her boyfriend in bed with two women, and has headed to the Carlyle Hotel In New York City with her new credit card…what next?

E-book:

contentIsabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter caught my eye and I am reading another tale of immigrants on my iPhone – this time in Brooklyn.

The novel revolves around three main characters: Evelyn Ortega, a twenty-year old young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant;  Lucia Maraz, an older woman and a Chilean born academic who lives in exile in the United States; and Richard Bowmaster, her landlord and colleague, who was married to a Brazilian woman earlier in his life.  The three are thrown together when Richard rear ends the car Evelyn is driving. This minor accident draws the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car into the action.”

Audiobook:

51EQME-NuJL._SL150_   When I read a review of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, I could not resist this classic.  It is available for free on Gutenberg Press, but with so many credits on audible, I decided to listen to it in the lovely British tones of Wanda McCaddon.

“This work, George Eliot’s fiction debut, contains three stories, all of which aim to disclose the value hidden in the commonplace.  The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, through vignettes of his life, portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Many people ridicule as well as slander and despise him, until his suffering shocks them into fellowship and sympathy.  In Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story, Eliot brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men, Wybrow, who is capable of loving only himself, and Mr. Gilfil, whose love for Caterina is selfless and perceptive.  The story Janet’s Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of an Evangelical clergyman.”

Lots to read – hope I can keep all the story lines from overlapping.  What are you reading?

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And the National Book Award Winner for Fiction Is

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Jacqueline Woodson, author of the National Book Award winning Brown Girl Dreaming, presented the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction to Jesmyn Ward for Sing, Unburied Sing.   The New York Times called the book “A Haunted Trip to Prison.”  Read the review – here.

This is the second time Ward has won the National Book Award;  in 2011 her second novel, Salvage the Bones, took the prize.

 

Pachinko

Unknown  Far into this saga of a Korean family in Japan, Min Jin Lee offers the reason for naming her book – Pachinko – for a popular Japanese pinball gambling game:

“Mozasu believed life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn’t control…something that looked fixed but which also left room for randomness and hope.”

Across four generations of Koreans, Min Jin Lee follows the history of Korea as it struggles through poverty, sublimation under Japanese rule, and the famous war dividing the country as it is today.  Nominated for the National Book Award, Pachinko captivates the reader with its characters while revealing their long and continuing effort for freedom and prosperity.

The timeline begins in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, continues to Japan before World War II and finally to the late 1980s in Japan.. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in a fishing village in what would be South Korea today.  The one daughter from the marriage, Sunja, is the continuing fulcrum for the story of her progeny.  When Sunja falls in love with a prominent and older married mobster, Hansu,  she becomes pregnant.  After declining Hansu’s offer to be his Korean mistress, she accepts the offer of marriage from a local Presbyterian minister from the North visiting her parents’ boarding house.    She escapes her disgrace by marrying him and immigrating to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka, Japan.  Throughout the novel, Hansu’s influence acts as a counterbalance.  His world of gambling seems innocuous until an incident reveals his cruelty and mobster power against anyone who crosses him.

Koreans in Japan were noncitizens, forced to change their names and regularly reapply for passports within a country where they might have been born.  Discrimination against them ranged from outright hostility to snobbish avoidance.  Sonja’s sons do not escape being ostracized; Noa, the son of the gangster and first in his family with a university education, yearns to be Japanese, his younger brother, Mozasu never seems to attain social status despite his wealth and connections.  Both sons eventually become pachinko house managers.

As time goes on, with each generation trying for a better life than their parents, the world changes but prejudicial attitudes seem to remain.  The last hope for equality among peers seems to be with Soloman, Sunja’s grandson, an American educated banker who has a promising career with a Japanese bank.  But not all is as it seems.   Sadly yet hopefully, Min Jin Lee ends the saga, true to her words:

“…life’s going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing…”

The author successfully reveals the complicated state of Koreans in Japan, covering difficult topics from the yakuza, immigration, and real estate deals to personal views of expatriate life, religion, and, of course, the pachinko industry.    A book of substance and introspection, Pachinko is a story worth reading and discussing; this reader will never make the mistake of forgetting the history and individualism of Asians.

 

The Power

UnknownYour hands will be cool but your mind may receive a jolt when you read Naomi Alderman’s electrifying and timely book, The Power.  In this dystopian world, Alderman asks  – what if women had all the power? What if all those women who were attacked by sexual predators could just zap them away with volts of electricity?

Leadership skills are helpful in this futuristic world, but electric shocks delivered to the uncooperative offer the most persuasive and sometimes deadly incentives.  Alderman frames her story around the draft of a novel written by an historian in the future; the novel begins and ends with letters asking for and receiving short reviews of the novel’s believability.  The historian is tracing the origin of the set of nerve cells – a skein of electrical wiring – across the collarbones of women.

In the historian’s premise, the appearance of the powerful skeins caused the shift in power from male to female control of the world.  Teenage girls first discover their power through manipulation of the electrical currents they can control for self-defense against men.  Initially, this unleashed power saves them from sexual advances, but eventually, its use for aggressiveness leads to a new religion, an armed force of women, and eventual take over of a world previously dominated by men.  Leaders include an ambitious  woman politician, the daughter of an underworld gangster, and an abused girl who becomes a charismatic pseudo-religious icon.

Alderman cleverly inserts recognizable scenarios of sex and power, reversing the attackers to women and the prey as men, as well as believable Internet forums corralling and controlling public opinion.  The action is sometimes graphic and the one male hero, a Nigerian reporter, manages to document the atrocities and send them into the newsfeed. The abuse of power, it seems, is not limited to men. Eventually, the world blows up in a nuclear disaster to reboot into a new future with better women in charge.

The final irony of a world with women in charge has a laughable moment when the reviewer is writing letters to the author commenting on the feasibility of the book for publication.  The reviewer, a woman, asks the author, a man, to change to a female pseudonym – the story may be better received if written by a woman.

Although I am not a fan of dystopian novels or science fiction, The Power, the winner of the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, has a timeliness for today’s headlines.  Compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the story has the same impact – a mix of terrifying fantasy and realism with electrifying satire.  This captivating book is scary, humorous, and unsettling – worth talking about.

In Honor of Poldark’s Aunt Agatha

Unknown-1   Spoiler Alert:  If you have not yet seen the final episode of Poldark, the eighteenth century saga set in Cornwall, you probably want to stop reading now.

Despite the rugged terrain with wild rides along the sea and rivalries among the families, one steady character, reportedly about to celebrate her 100th birthday, challenges the evil doers and maintains her upright moral code despite the corruption around her.  Sadly, Aunt Agatha finally has her heart broken when the cold calculating George Warleggan cancels her birthday party.  Of course, the stalwart Aunt Agatha has her revenge before she takes her last breath.

In the Masterpiece Studio Podcast interview of Catherine Blakiston, the actress playing Aunt Agatha, she mentions she was gifted the tarot cards she often shuffled on scene as she predicted dire consequences for others, and the book Aunt Agatha continually read around the fire – Tristram Shandy.

Hepburn7_logLaurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, with its first of nine volumes published in 1759, begins with its hero about to be born and becomes so sidetracked by digressions that the story ends shortly after his birth, but not before introducing a vivid group of eccentric and farcical characters in a comic tour de force.  Tristram Shandy was a bestseller of its time and Sterne is recognized as one of the forerunners of psychological fiction.

I’ve never read it, so in honor of Aunt Agatha, I’ve downloaded the classic for free from Project Gutenberg – all 760 pages.

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