Posted in Reviews

Review: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: YES
For a history not well known in the US, for a prime example of how graphic novels so well suit memoirs, for a funny and dramatic story

Do they ban books because they see danger in their authors, or because they are themselves in their villains?

Summary:
hen Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

You can learn a lot about history by figuring out what people wanted to hide.

Thoughts:
Graphic novels are so well suited to memoirs and nonfiction. This is a prime example. The art and coloring complements the story perfectly. With the selective colors it focuses exactly on what needs to be focused on. And again, things that are hard to say in words are sometimes better conveyed in images.

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Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Eat The Buddha

In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is from an author I was quite moved by before, which made my discovery of a similar book, Eat the Buddha (by Barbara Demick) quite exciting!
Expected release: July 28, 2020

Why wait on this one?

  • I’ve read a lot of books about Korea and North Korea because I absolutely love the country (countries) and their history, culture, and everything. Barbara Demerick’s North Korea Confidential was incredibly well-written and completely immersed me in the stories of the people who spoke. If this is anything like that, then it will be another wealth of knowledge and experience.
  • I love learning about other places, and particularly about historical and cultural events that I have never learned about before. There are a lot of gaps in my world knowledge to fill, and I hope that this book could do well to help another one.
  • At the same time, I want to break my own stereotypes. I work in travel, and the way we sell trips to this region is largely by romanticizing it’s quaint, traditional, spiritual lifestyle. While those aspects may exist in Tibet, I feel that there is so much more to know about life there. I want to dismantle my shaky understanding and build a stronger foundation of knowledge and empathy.

Summary:
Just as she did with North Korea, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick explores one of the most hidden corners of the world. She tells the story of a Tibetan town perched eleven thousand feet above sea level that is one of the most difficult places in all of China for foreigners to visit. Ngaba was one of the first places where the Tibetans and the Chinese Communists encountered one another. In the 1930s, Mao Zedong’s Red Army fled into the Tibetan plateau to escape their adversaries in the Chinese Civil War. By the time the soldiers reached Ngaba, they were so hungry that they looted monasteries and ate religious statues made of flour and butter—to Tibetans, it was as if they were eating the Buddha. Their experiences would make Ngaba one of the engines of Tibetan resistance for decades to come, culminating in shocking acts of self-immolation.

Eat the Buddha spans decades of modern Tibetan and Chinese history, as told through the private lives of Demick’s subjects, among them a princess whose family is wiped out during the Cultural Revolution, a young Tibetan nomad who becomes radicalized in the storied monastery of Kirti, an upwardly mobile entrepreneur who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a poet and intellectual who risks everything to voice his resistance, and a Tibetan schoolgirl forced to choose at an early age between her family and the elusive lure of Chinese money. All of them face the same dilemma: Do they resist the Chinese, or do they join them? Do they adhere to Buddhist teachings of compassion and nonviolence, or do they fight?

Illuminating a culture that has long been romanticized by Westerners as deeply spiritual and peaceful, Demick reveals what it is really like to be a Tibetan in the twenty-first century, trying to preserve one’s culture, faith, and language against the depredations of a seemingly unstoppable, technologically all-seeing superpower. Her depiction is nuanced, unvarnished, and at times shocking.

Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Tiananmen 1989

In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I’m using Fast Forward Fridays to look ahead to a release I’m excited about! Today’s is Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes, told from a man who was helping to organize the Tiananmen protests on June 4th, 1989.
Expected Release: June 16, 2020

Why wait on this one?

  • This is about an event I know too little about: the Tiananmen square massacre, or June 4th Event. Considering how arguably recent this was, it’s pretty weird that I know so little about it, so I’m taking my education into my own hands.
  • This is told from the experiences of Lun Zhang, the Chinese sociology teacher who was helping to organize the protest. I hope to get an authentic insight that isn’t filtered through a Westernized lens; allow the culture to be shown genuinely the way it felt for the people living it and let those voices be heard.
  • I think I’ve made it clear by now that I love graphic novel memoirs. In general, I think the format is well-suited to difficult realities, particularly historical ones. I don’t know much about this incident, except that it was awful. I expect the image aspect of this to carry some of the storytelling burden.
  • It feels like a good time to learn about this event specifically, given the many protests happening now in my own country seeking political reform (particularly around police brutality). I’m not too familiar with the background of the event, but I believe that I’ll see connections between Tiananmen and modern-day America in the activist movements and what people are trying to change.

Follow the story of China’s infamous June Fourth Incident — otherwise known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre — from the first-hand account of a young sociology teacher who witnessed it all.

Over 30 years ago, on April 15th 1989, the occupation of Tiananmen Square began. As tens of thousands of students and concerned Chinese citizens took to the streets demanding political reforms, the fate of China’s communist system was unknown. When reports of soldiers marching into Beijing to suppress the protests reverberated across Western airwaves, the world didn’t know what to expect. Lun Zhang was just a young sociology teacher then, in charge of management and safety service for the protests. Now, in this powerful graphic novel, Zhang pairs with French journalist and Asia specialist Adrien Gombeaud, and artist Ameziane, to share his unvarnished memory of this crucial moment in world history for the first time. Providing comprehensive coverage of the 1989 protests that ended in bloodshed and drew global scrutiny, Zhang includes context for these explosive events, sympathetically depicting a world of discontented, idealistic, activist Chinese youth rarely portrayed in Western media. Many voices and viewpoints are on display, from Western journalists to Chinese administrators. Describing how the hope of a generation was shattered when authorities opened fire on protestors and bystanders, Tiananmen 1989 shows the way in which contemporary China shaped itself.

bonus! sample page from the book courtesy of Edelweiss
Posted in Reviews

The Art of Looking Up by Catherine McCormack

The Art of Looking Up by Catherine McCormack – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
First: points for the deeply clever name. Also, the deeply clever everything-else.

Recommended: yes!
For an interesting look at civilizations around the world past and present, for an interesting subset of art that can fuel your travel plans, for art and/or history buffs

Summary:
From the floating women and lotus flowers of the Senso-ji Temple in Japan, to the religious iconography that adorns places of worship from Vienna to Istanbul, all the way to bold displays like the Chihuly glass flora suspended from the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas: this book takes you on a tour of the extraordinary artworks that demand an alternative viewpoint. History of art expert Catherine McCormack guides you through the stories behind the artworks – their conception, execution, and the artists that visualized them. In many cases, these artworks also make bold but controlled political, religious or cultural statements, revealing much about the society and times in which they were created. Divided by these social themes into four sections – Religion, Culture, Power and Politics – and pictured from various viewpoints in glorious color photography, tour the astounding ceilings of many remarkable locations around the world.

Thoughts:
The whole reason I wanted to read this is because I am constantly looking up (figuratively and literally) and I tend to notice interesting things and then think to myself, “I bet so many people never look up at see this interesting thing.” This is a whole book written by someone who likely does the same thing, but can blend that passing curiosity with detailed historical and artistic notes with a writing style that anyone can enjoy and get a laugh out of.

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Posted in Reviews

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Very well done look at North Korea, thanks to those who were willing to relive the best and worst details of their lives to share with the world.

Recommended: ABSOLUTELY
For those who know nothing about North Korea, for those who know a boatload about North Korea, for a fantastic history of the country (and the whole peninsula, really), for moving stories of the people who grew up there, for an incredibly comprehensive and personal set of biographies

Masterful, truly.

Summary:
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects—average North Korean citizens—fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them.

Thoughts:
Oh, wow. So I am not a beginner in learning about North Korea, but this book was a whole new style of writing about it that I deeply appreciated and was seriously impressed by. Although these are true stories of people who grew up in North Korea before making their way out of North Korea, it most often read like a novel.

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