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)

Reading Mongolia: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Like I warned you a few days ago, I went on a reading binge with Mongolia. And my third book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford, was a complete winner.

Excuse me for shouting, but I LEARNED SO MUCH. I loved it. You know I won’t tell you much of anything in terms of details, but this book has my most enthusiastic support. You should totally check it out!

I was reading it on a business trip, and a woman sitting next to me on the plane kept looking at the cover, and finally had to ask me all about it. Genghis Khan has a lot of charisma, even after 800 years.

And here’s me, making a stretched personal connection to all of this…my dad owned his own business. When it came time to think about retiring, he had a very serious talk to me about his kids NOT inheriting the company. He had watched quite a few unsuccessful generational transitions in his own industry, and he was a big reader of history. I remember him saying “it doesn’t often work, even for Genghis Khan” and you know what…he was right. He sold the company to the employees, and it was the right thing. I’m not sure if he had read this book, but I have the feeling he did…

Portrait of Genghis Khan
Portrait of Genghis Khan
(image in the Public Domain, via the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan)