Sunday, June 20, 2010

Recent Reading

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - This Newberry Medal winner is the story of Nobody Owens, Bod, who is adopted as an infant by the inhabitants of the Old Town cemetery after his family is murdered. He grows to a fine boy--it doesn't take a village, it takes a graveyard--with certain powers and a unique outlook thanks to his relationships with the ghosts who populate his shadowy domain. Still, he knows he must someday leave the graveyard, and he must avenge the death of his family. What begins as a gentle tale slowly builds to a dramatic finale that you have to read to really appreciate. Good stuff.
  • The Ma Rok Biographies by Seo Giwon - This Portable Library of Korean Liturature volume includes three of the five stories that make up the series, so my review is necessarily constrained. The stories are set during the Japanese occupation, and all include Lord Kim, a member of the Privy Council, as a character, though he represents the hopes and dreams of the commoners who are the lead characters in the tales. Frankly, I didn't understand some of the political/historical background, and this interfered somewhat with my enjoyment of the stories. Still, by the end of each one, I "got" the message and even laughed out loud at the ironic twist of two of them.
  • Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden - This is the middle book of the series about the Mongol leader's life, and is as fast-moving and engrossing as the first book was. After uniting the tribes in book one, Genghis sets off to wreak revenge on the Chinese empire that held them down and divided them for so many centuries. But first, he must learn how to break through their seemingly invincible fortifications. The catapults and rolling ladders they build require his soldiers to adopt a whole new method of fighting. A fascinating example of leadership, Genghis is a man unafraid to use the ideas of his underlings, to seek new solutions when the tried and true don't work, and to risk his own body in the serivce of his new nation.
  • The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang - Thoroughly researched and documented, if not particularly well-written, Chang has attempted to dissect one of the worst--and least-known--atrocities of WWII, the invasion and subjugation of Nanking in 1937-8, then the capital of China, as part of Japan's campaign to control Asia (and perhaps the world). Her extensive use of personal diaries, photographic evidence and even Japanese newspaper accounts provide conclusive evidence that the Japanese military behaved in a manner that makes Nazi barbarism towards the Jews and other "inferior" groups seem positively nice in comparison to the rape and murder of 260,000 or more Chinese. In contrast to the Germans, however, the Japanese have never apologized for their barbarity in the Asian theatre of war, they have continually denied it, and have regularly ensconced those who perpetrated this evil (and the evils of "comfort women", "medical experimentation" and other grotesque war crimes) in their government. Most outrageous, perhaps, is the on-going attempt by conservatives in Japan to whitewash history by repeatedly denying established facts, revising history textbooks and lying out their collective ass. Germany stepped up and admitted the truth, and attempted to atone for it; it's long past time for Japan to do the same.
  • A Man by Hwang Soon-won - A collection of three stories by one of Korea's best-known writers. "The Dog of Crossover Village" chronicles life in a small village through the exploits, and survival, of a stray dog; the title story is a short profile of a man's troubles with women--his first marriage is ruined by his jealous mother, and his second by infidelity; "Bibari", or woman diver, is the lyrical tale of a young man's affair with a bibari. These stories are simple but revealing and his writing style is straightforward yet tinged with lyricism. Hwang is the kind of writer here for whom a gesture may just be a gesture, or it may be loaded with symbolic import--and he lets the reader decide.
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park - The second book I've read by her, this one is set in twelfth-century Korea, and concerns a young boy who becomes apprentice to a potter in the seaside village of Ch'ulp'o. Raised under a bridge by the Crane-man, the boy Tree-Ear s ultimately given an important task--to deliver some pottery samples to the Emperor's representative far away in Songpo. To do this, he must trek across the length of Korea, avoiding dangerous animals and even more dangerous thieves. A quick read that still carries a strong impact.


Charles Montgomery said...

Hey Tuttle...

Where do you find your Korean books? What the Book? Foreign Bookstore?

I'm always looking for translated volumes, but there are never enough. ;-)

Tuttle said...

I usually shop at the Kyobo bookstore in Kyobo Tower at Gangnam. It is directly out exit 7 of Shinonhyeon sta. of line 9.