Monday, March 30, 2015

I'll Be Right There by Kyung -Sook Shin

by Alida Hanson

An enigmatic, poetic, ultimately tragic tale of love, literature and loss set during a period of time in Korea with which I was not familiar before I read this book. In the 1980s, South Korea was socially and politically unstable after the ending of an authoritarian regime. University students protested seriously and often. This is our setting.

Students Yoon, Dahn, Myungsuh, and Miru form a strong bond. We watch how this relationship grows, and then witness how it changes, and ends. Stories are told in alternating chapters, with a journal speaking one of the voices. I wonder what this book would read like if I could read it in the original Korean. The tone reminds me a lot of Murakami's novels: very interior, noticing details, sensitive.

While there is a mystery that pulls you along, for me, the strength of the book is its descriptions of meaningful relationships between people: how they start, grow and end. If you like books about relationships and have an interest in Asian literature or Korea, this book is for you.

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

by Alida Hanson

An absolutely hilarious novel about a Russian family who settles in Brooklyn in the 80s/90s during an era when it seems like the entire population of Odessa has recreated their city in Brighton Beach. The novel focuses on three generations of the Nasmertov family, including the uncle/son Pasha, a famous poet, who stays in Odessa.

The author has a gift for description, juxtaposition, and blending plot elements to make a point.  I laughed at loud at the scene in the banya (bath house) where mother Marina and daughter Frida spend an afternoon:

"For those who have only imagined the scene inside a ladies' locker room, the actuality was a handful of half-squatting women struggling with their locks. The key never fit, and then the key got stuck. There was an atmosphere of stifled panic. Bathroom doors were left flung open, as if the occupants had fled."

I love the literature of the of this generation of Russian immigrants: Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, Masha Gessen, the literary magazine N+1 (I know I'm leaving some out). The author of Panic in a Suitcase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, deserves a place in the pantheon. I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a funny read and has an affinity for Russian literature and culture.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

by Grace Wang

Without a doubt, this is one of the most powerful books that I have ever read.  

One damaged girl. 

A summer on her family’s private island. 

The story is told through the voice of an emotionally distraught eighteen year old girl. Her distinctive voice echoed in my head until the very last page. I could relate to her character because I felt all her pains, joys and griefs. It was like she was part of me. 

My favorite part of the book was the author’s writing style. The poetic phrases and powerful words weaved together to create an unforgettable story. Also, the sentence fragments were effective because the short phrases conveyed important messages. In addition, I liked the design of the book, as the blank space allotted room for imagination and acted as transitions to the next line. 

The plot was so sophisticated that I questioned everything. The author cleverly unveiled a little bit to us at a time—from sparse details until suddenly reaching the climax; everything spilled out, erupting like a volcano. This story was a heartbreaking read that twisted with my mind until the very end. It took my breath away—leaving me speechless and in shock.

This is unlike any book I have ever read because of its unique, powerful style and complex plot. I could not stop turning the pages and finished the book in one day.  It was too good to put down. 

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  An out-of-the-box read for sure!