It dawned on me today that, by pure chance, I have a lot of books from the Asian region that I am currently reading or have lined up to read soon, so I figured I might make August “Asian August” where I just focus on books from that area.
So here’s a look at the books I’m planning to finish/read this month.
“This is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.
Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mother* is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.”
*Please Look After Mom in America.
BITCHES BOOKCLUB (august):
“[Out] tells a story of random violence in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime.The ringleader of this cover-up, Masako Katori, emerges as the emotional heart of Out and as one of the shrewdest, most clear-eyed creations in recent fiction. Masako’s own search for a way out of the straitjacket of a dead-end life leads her, too, to take drastic action.
The complex yet riveting narrative seamlessly combines a convincing glimpse into the grimy world of Japan’s yakuza with a brilliant portrayal of the psychology of a violent crime and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between seasoned detectives and a group of determined but inexperienced criminals. Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humour than illuminators her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.”
“Botchan, a hilarious tale about a young man’s rebellion against “the system” in a country school, is a classic of its kind. Among Japanese readers both young and old it has enjoyed a timeless popularity.
The setting is Japan’s deep south, where the author himself spent some time teaching English in a boys’ school. Into this conservative world, with its social proprieties and established pecking order, breezes Botchan, down from the big city, with scant respect for either his elders or his noisy young charges; and the result is a chain of collisions large and small.”
potential TBR (more a list of options than a definitive list of “will reads”):
“Kafka on the Shore is the latest novel by Japan’s leading literary novelist, who developed a world-wide cult reputation with Norwegian Wood. In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami continues with his remarkable combination of profound insight into humankind with a totally credible touch of the fantastical – a unique tour de force.
The teenager Kafka Tamura goes on the run and holes up in a strange library in a small country town. Concurrently, Nakata, a finder of lost cats, goes on a puzzling odyssey across Japan. Only gradually do we find how these stories interweave.”
“If you’ve wondered how we did not see the economic collapse coming, Ha-Joon Chang knows the answer: We didn’t ask what they didn’t tell us about capitalism. This is a lighthearted book with a serious purpose: to question the assumptions behind the dogma and sheer hype that the dominant school of neoliberal economists-the apostles of the freemarket-have spun since the Age of Reagan.
Chang, the author of the international bestseller “Bad Samaritans,” is one of the world’s most respected economists, a voice of sanity-and wit-in the tradition of John Kenneth Galbraith and Joseph Stiglitz. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism equips readers with an understanding of how global capitalism works-and doesn’t. In his final chapter, “How to Rebuild the World,” Chang offers a vision of how we can shape capitalism to humane ends, instead of becoming slaves of the market.”
One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.”
“Twenty-one year old Fenfang Wang has traveled one thousand eight hundred miles to seek her fortune in contemporary urban Beijing, and has no desire to return to the drudgery of the sweet potato fields back home. However, Fenfang is ill-prepared for what greets her: a Communist regime that has outworn its welcome, a city under rampant destruction and slap-dash development, and a sexist attitude seemingly more in keeping with her peasant upbringing than the country’s progressive capital. Yet Fenfang is determined to live a modern life. With courage and purpose, she forges ahead, and soon lands a job as a film extra. While playing roles like ‘woman-walking-over-the-bridge’ and ‘waitress-wiping-a-table’ help her eke out a meagre living, Fenfang comes under the spell of two unsuitable young men, keeps her cupboard stocked with UFO noodles, and after mastering the fever and tumult of the city, ultimately finds her true independence in the one place she never expected.
At once wry and moving, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth gives us a clear-eyed glimpse into the precarious and fragile state of China’s new identity and asserts Xiaolu Guo as her generation’s voice of modern China.”
“With an introduction by Xiaolu Guo A classic memoir set during the Chinese revolution of the 1940s and inspired by folklore, providing a unique insight into the life of an immigrant in America. When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talking-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Throughout her childhood, Maxine Hong Kingston listened to her mother’s mesmerising tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upwards. Growing up in a changing America, surrounded by Chinese myth and memory, this is her story of two cultures and one trenchant, lyrical journey into womanhood. Complex and beautiful, angry and adoring, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is a seminal piece of writing about emigration and identity. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 and is widely hailed as a feminist classic.”
So that’s what’s hopefully on the cards for me this month! I doubt I’ll get to all of them and I suspect—with my reading personality—I will bounce about elsewhere too… But I’m hoping to get to at least a few of these because they all sound right up my alley.
In related and slightly bizarre news, I’ve started learning Japanese! It took me a long time to decide between learning Japanese or Korean (the Korean writing system is so simple and also beautiful), but in the end I (sort of arbitrarily) decided to go for Japanese. I wouldn’t say I have any particular vested interest in Japan and I actually can’t think of a single (non-anime) Japanese film that I like/remember in contrast with the many South Korean films I’ve loved… BUT Japan won out for whatever reason and now I’ve started down this road and I’m gonna damn well just keep right on truckin’! hahah
I’ve actually been dedicating more time to refreshing my French recently with the help of a language website called italki* where you can get feedback on your writing from native speakers and you can get lessons from professional teachers and it’s been going really well. I had my first italki French speaking lesson last week Friday with a really great French teacher. It made me realise how much spoken French I can actually understand with little effort even at average speed, but also how terrible I am with speaking! I get super nervous and clam up and the words don’t come to me and I stumble over my grammar and it’s just a blinding hot mess. BUT that’s what lessons are for! I’ve always leaned heavily on writing and reading (…as in real life to some extent) but I want to be able to function well in all aspects of normal French conversation. It was through italki that I somehow started to think it might be interesting to learn an asian language… So here I am learning Japanese!
If anyone is interested, I found this really great resource called Dr Moku’s mnemonics which is great for learning hiragana and katakana (two of the three writing systems you need to get started with Japanese if you plan to be able to read and/or write anything). I was super intimidated at first because each of those has so many characters. In fact, I was considering skipping the writing systems altogether and just dealing with romanji (Japanese words written in the latin alphabet) and only speaking and listening which would be a whole new experience with language learning for me and might have been an interesting approach to take. But then I watched a YouTube video where someone mentioned Dr Moku and how easy it made learning the writing systems and I thought I’d just give it a shot.
I ended up able to identify all the hiragana basic characters and their modified forms (which takes you up to a total of 61 characters) in about two hours of super casual in-and-out ‘study’ with the app on my phone. FANTASTIC! I think katakana’s going to be more difficult because it’s basically the same sounds but with different symbols so I’ll tackle that next week after spending this week just redoing more and more hiragana drills I think. All the while, I’ll be trying to remember more kanji (apparently at about 2000 characters is when you start to become really functional and I’m at about 11. Oy vey!). But I’m not on any time limit and, weirdly, I don’t actually particularly care about fluency in Japanese at the end of all this. I mean, that’d be really cool too, but I just wanted a fun language challenge that I don’t have any plans to necessarily use. (I’m also dabbling in German on the side.)
Let me know if you are interested in reading any of the books I listed above this month. Maybe we can have a read-along or discuss thoughts later!
*If you decide to try italki and use my referral link we’ll both get 100 ITC (which is enough for a free trial lesson from most teachers – both community and professional).