Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In Which Tuttle Has the Sniffles

I mentioned that I have a cold--in the past few days it has blossomed into a rich, bubbling sort of cold, with deep luxurious, productive coughs, but is now beginning to subside. Hopefully, I'll go to the soccer game tomorrow as planned.

I seldom get sick, but the weather has been really funky: cold, warm, cold, wet and cold, warm, etc., so it caught me.

It has been exam time at school, which means I have nothing to do, so I arranged earlier to take a pair of vacation days yesterday and today, since tomorrow is Children's Day, a national holiday in Korea. Meaning I had five straight days for the price of two.

So what did I do on my vacation? Slept. A lot. Like 10, 12 hours a day. And read. Also a lot.
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - "The most influential science fiction novel of the twentieth century", says the cover blurb. Published in Russian in 1921 (trans. by Mirra Ginsburg c. 1972), it is a clear precursor of Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, etc--thus a seminal work of the genre. Unfortunately, that doesn't serve to make it more readable. It is slow going, especially with the ham-handed symbolism, opaque lyrical turns, and a narrator who refuses to finish many of his ... In a future where logic has triumphed over imagination, life is regulated by the Table of Hours, the One State is controlled by the Great Benefactor, and people have become numbers. Indeed, our narrator is D-503, Builder of the Integral, a rocket ship which will soon blast off to carry this ideal system to the rest of the Universe. Except that I-330, a beautiful woman who D has come to love, may complicate those plans ...
  • Rust by Yang Gui-ja - No. 15 in the Portable Library of Korean Literature consists of two stories, "Rust" and "Swamp". The first story details a Seoul advertising rep's life; rust, which he constantly struggles to remove from his kid's tricycle, stainless bowls, faucets, etc, symbolises his disappointment with how life has turned out. Very ordinary. The next tale is a lot better, a pair of ajumma's pleasant Sunday thrown into upheaval by the arrival--after twenty years in America--of one of them's old friend. His story, of events that happened when he was a middle school history teacher, provide a disturbing glimpse of life in Korea during the Park Chung-hee era of the 1970s social unrest.
  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - Tells the story of the narrator's seduction as a schoolboy by a secretive older woman in 1950s Germany--as the setting might suggest, in addition to anything else, it is a rumination on the legacy of guilt from the Nazis. Even though I could see every twist well in advance, the story grew on me; the novelist's take on the way future events color and shape our memories is interesting, and very effective here. It is also interesting as a morality tale, as Hanna's secrets force Michael to make tough decisions. There is a 2008 movie starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, both of whom seem miscast, from my reading of it.
  • Between Heaven and Earth by Yun Daenyeong - This book won the Yi Sang Prize, but I don't have the first guess as to why. It's not unreadable, I'll give it that, but there's nothing else good to say. The story centers on a guy who's supposed to be delivering condolences to his favorite uncle on the death of his aunt, but who instead follows a woman in a yellow overcoat (and the shadow of death) to an inn in some little town on the coast. Why does he do this? No one knows, least of all, I suspect, the author. What happens once they're there? Very little, beyond some conversations about fishing with the innkeeper. Oh, and they go to bed together. Note to self: great titles do not necessarily mean good books.
  • Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith - No. 2 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series focusing on the sensible and generously-proportioned Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's Miss Marple. Except, well, there's not really much detecting going on--these are not whodunits, so much as character studies, morality tales and ruminations on the history of Africa. And that's quite all right with me, as the book was a quick, engrossing read; it had a satisfying denoument with the unravelling of the over-arching case of an American youth who went missing ten years earlier. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe's engagement to Mr JLB Matekoni is complicated by his adoption of an orphaned brother and sister; and the elevation of Mma Makutsi from secretary to Assistant Detective (with light secretarial duties) also occurs.

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