The central character in this story is Yeong-hye, a very ordinary South Korean housewife who awakens from a violent nightmare and declares herself a vegetarian, and it ultimately tears her entire family apart. The novella is told in three parts — one from her self-centered husband, one from her artist brother-in-law, and the last from her protective older sister. Yeong-hye’s transformation only begins with her vegetarianism. She eventually believes she can become one with the natural world, needing only air and water to survive.
The book is anything but ascetic though. Throughout it there is violence, both physical and sexual, in her dreams, in her marriage, in the mental hospital she’s sent to, even at a family dinner. And while she may be insane, her certainty that she is doing what she has to even if it kills her forces you to ask yourself, as Yeong-hye asks, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?” It’s an odd and uncomfortable book, but a great read.
I don’t believe I’ve ever taken as long to read a book! Sure, it’s over 700 pages, but that wasn’t what took me so long. I’d simply ingested enough story after just a few pages to be satisfied with the experience. The book is a fictionalized (or is it?) memoir by German writer Albert Vigoleis Thelen of the years he and his wife Beatrice spent on the island of Majorca. Initially landing there under the false impression that her brother Zwingli is dying, the couple end up spending five years there during the run-up to World War II.
Continue reading “The Island of Second Sight”
Lots of lists coming out this time of year. Here are several good ones.
Award Winners of 2017
The Best According to The Washington Post
The New York Times’s Best List
Publishers Weekly’s Faves
And from The Guardian, writers from George Saunders to Ali Smith pick their favourite reads of the past year.
What were your favorites?
Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. Born and raised in England, her story takes you from the brutal British takeover of India, to the court of Queen Victoria, to the modern women’s suffragette movement. She began her young life in a Suffolk mansion with her exiled father and family, and was part of the most elite social set, given her status with the royal family. But though she was the Queen’s goddaughter, she never married since no one of her station would marry an Indian princess.
Continue reading “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary”
This totally delightful story is told from the perspective of a dog named Mr. Bones. It begins as he accompanies his delusional but kind homeless owner Willy G. Christmas from Brooklyn to Baltimore. There Willy is hoping to find his favorite high school teacher and a new home for Mr. Bones, since Willy knows he’s not long for this world. After Willy dies, Mr. Bones has a series of adventures on his own searching for Timbuktu, since Willy told him that was where he was going. What’s wonderful about the book is the way that clever little Mr. Bones sees the human world and the limitations we set on everything. It’s a smart and funny and at times sad story, but a must for dog lovers and Auster fans, too, as I am one.
I listened to this one on a road trip. It was read by the author and totally sucked me in. It’s the story of a book critic named Brill who is recovering from a car accident at his daughter’s house. As he tries to sleep and cannot, he tells himself stories, and the one that takes hold is one about a parallel universe in which 9/11 never happened, but the 2000 election led to a recession, and America is embroiled in a bloody civil war. The protagonist of his story is in our world one minute and the next he is sucked into the other. Initially confused about how he got there and what is going on, he’s soon desperate to find a way out of becoming an assassin on a mission to kill the only person capable of ending the war — the writer. The book cuts back and forth from real world where Brill spends his time watching Netflix with his film-obsessed granddaughter to story world where he knows he has to kill himself off. The book is both a fun story-within-a-story yarn and an engaging meditation on family and aging and loss. Hearing it read by the author was a wonderful way to receive this book, but Paul Auster has such a wonderful way with words I’m sure it would be equally satisfying as a physical tome.
I haven’t read a John Irving novel in a long time. Maybe the last was A Prayer for Owen Meany back in the 80s? Well, Avenue of Mysteries is a great reintroduction to his sometimes supernatural, but always grounded in relationships world. Here Irving takes on the life of one Juan Diego — from his humble beginnings as a Mexican dump scavenging kid, to his efforts at becoming a high-wire performer in the circus, to his success as an internationally famous author. The story is framed by his trip to the Philippines as a guest of one of his Iowa Writers’ Workshop students, and his vivid waking and sleeping dreams/memories there of a very eventful life.
Continue reading “Avenue of Mysteries”