Country #57: Russia

Russia. Russia. Russia.

I’ll be honest…I wasn’t automatically happy to pick this one out of the bunch. I have lots of feelings about the current state of things, in a political sense.

BUT, I’m an American. My country is not an easy entity for non-Americans to process, and I certainly always hope that people don’t judge me by the actions of my government. So the least I can do for my brothers and sisters in Russia is to offer them the same courtesy.

And think about what I would miss if I closed my mind and heart to all things Russian: literature, history, art, FOOD. I can’t do that, no matter how uneasy I am with the world right now…so…here we go.

Reading South Korea: Drifting House

When I was doing research for South Korean literature, I came across a list in Vanity Fair of  5 Korean Novels You Should Read.  One of the first things said was “these aren’t Beach Reads”. And indeed – they are NOT.  I’m going to take their advice and run with it anyway; three of the five recommendations are sitting in my living room.  First up: Drifting House, by Krys Lee.

This book kicked my ass. The long-lasting devastation of war. The destruction, down to the family level, of a nation torn apart. What it means to be an immigrant, and then again the next level of being a first-generation kid, carrying all that weight and more. This collection of short stories digs in deep, grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. There were moments of wanting to put it down, to just return it to the library and find something else easier to digest, but nope. The author manifested this unflinching thing, and it was on me to stay. Even though it wasn’t always easy, it was entirely worth it.

Seoul at Night
Seoul at Night (image by KLuwak , via Wikimedia Commons)

Country #53: South Korea

I’m really looking forward to this one.

I’ve had some books on my radar from South Korean authors for a while, so I’m ready to dig in. Expect multiple reviews!

 

 

Reading Mongolia: The Secret Life of the Mongol Queens

Once I started reading about Mongolia, I just couldn’t stop. BUT I HAVE TO, since I’ve got 140+ countries left to go on this journey. So, I’m wrapping it up with one more book by Jack Weatherford.

Since I enjoyed the book about Genghis Khan so much I was really excited about this one, especially since I’m all about my sisters throwing it down. But I was a bit disappointed: fascinating history about powerful women, but as it moved away from Genghis and his wives and daughters, I lost interest.

It was hard to keep the thread after the Mongol empire started to really disintegrate; the political and social reality of fraying societies is generally all about constant churn and lots of violence, and to be honest that’s depressing to me. Also, there are just brief glimpses of individuals; that’s understandable, since most cultures have never been that interested in keeping detailed records of women’s lives and contributions, but it was still unsatisfying. It made the book feel strung together, and a bit thin.

Overall verdict: okay but not great, which is a shame.

Mongol women at Naadam_festival
Mongol women at Naadam_festival (image by https://www.flickr.com/people/gradlon, via Wikimedia Commons)