B99: amy

4 Books

What I've read in 2017, so far.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - A sprawling multi-generational epic of Koreans living in Japan. The novel starts when Sunja, the beloved daughter of poor Korean farmers, gets pregnant out of wedlock. Her lover cannot marry her, but by chance, she meets a Christian minister who offers to marry her and take her to start a new life in Japan in the 1930s. At the time, Koreans formed an underclass in Japan, and they face discrimination even today. I actually remember my students in Tokyo gossiping about who might have Korean ancestry, so it was interesting to learn how that attitude developed. Reading this book was fascinating on two levels: on the one hand, I learned a lot about this rarely-discussed chapter in Asian history; on the other hand, I learned a lot about privilege that applies to the United States as well. But this book is not just a history lesson. It's written in beautiful yet simple language, reminiscent of an old fairy tale, and I stayed up late reading because I needed to know each character's fate as soon as possible. Like many books in this genre, it drags a little toward the end as it left behind well-established characters for the next generation that the reader doesn't love quite as much -- but that's a small criticism of an otherwise lovely story. I can't remember being so absorbed by a book in a long time.

The Two-State Delusion by Padraig O'Malley - This is the most frustrating book I've read in a long time. Not because it's badly written, but because the seemingly unresovable conflict between Israel and Palestine is -- for lack of a better word -- frustrating. The author breaks down several obstacles to a peace settlement, including poor negotiating tactics on both sides, cultural differences that the United States fails to comprehend, the two sides' conflicting historical narratives, and Hamas' rise to power in the Gaza Strip. Although I wasn't expecting it, the book made me more sympathetic to Israel, mostly because I hadn't realized that Hamas poses an extreme danger to civilians on both sides by routinely using Palestinian locals as human shields for military operations. That said, I don't think the book is biased in any way; the author went to great pains to interview hundreds of people on both sides, and the exhaustive footnotes allow readers to carefully inspect the sources. Although I included this book on my 'recommended' list, here's my disclaimer: I read this because of the current debate topic, not because the prose is especially engaging. People who are interested in the issue will probably like it, but it's not going to make anyone interested who doesn't care already.

The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales - This book feels like a mash-up of hundreds of comic book tropes, and at first, I loved it. It tells the story of the mysterious Regional Office, which recruits beautiful, talented girls with special powers to defend the Earth from supernatural threats. The writing style was hilarious, and I loved each of the characters. But it quickly became apparent that this book is not just a send-up of the superhero genre; it was creepy and disturbing, and eventually the main characters' behavior made me squirm. The ending resolved nothing, and if it had been a real book, I would've thrown it across the room in frustration -- but I'd downloaded it for kindle, and deleting it from my library was much less satisfying.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang - When Charles Wang loses his corporate empire thanks to one bad business decision, he packs up his spoiled second wife, collects his youngest daughter from her posh boarding school and his aspiring comedian son from his ritzy university. Together, they set off on a cross-country road trip to re-unite with the oldest daughter, a recently disgraced artist who still has a lot of money. Reading this book reminded me of watching Arrested Development: the characters are crassly shallow yet strangely sympathetic, and I yearned for their success as much as I hoped for their defeat. But, much like Arrested Development, it got old after awhile. I ended up skimming through the last section of the story so that I could know what happened to each character without having to read the minutiae of their cringe-inducing antics.
Thank you so much for the recs! I am now very interested in Pachinko.
The first two books sound fascinating! I've already got Pachinko on my wish list, so I'll add the other one too. The Isreal-Palestine conflict is one I'm often hesitant to discuss, because the opinions about it are so heated on both sides. I don't support Isreal's actions in the West Bank at all, but the rhetoric used by campus activists at my university (who were, notably, not Palestinian themselves and tended to be white Anglo-Saxons with dreadlocks) often had a strong antisemitic whiff about it, and I felt very unsafe around them. I think many people could benefit from a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the conflict.