Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book Reviews.

I've been reading a lot these past few months, but haven't really had the opportunity to blog much about the books I've been reading. Some have been quite exceptional and memorable, so here is a short list of things you REALLY should read if you haven't yet:

You MUST Read This Book! The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea by Charles Robert Jenkins and Jim Frederick. When I was visiting DC at the end of August, Anne, Sam, and I went to the Spy Museum near Gallery Place and Chinatown. I kept looking for information about Korea (living here has peaked my interest), but found little in the museum itself. To be fair, there was also very little information about the Middle East, so perhaps they are just limited by the fact that these are ongoing conflicts.

However, in the bookstore I found this little memoir of Jenkins--a man who defected to North Korea in the sixties trying to avoid the Vietnam war, and became stuck there because Kim Il Sung's Juche Policy (주체사상) meant they didn't allow anyone so valuable to the regime to leave their country. He only got out because Japan has fought vigilantly for the return of Japanese abductees forced to teach in North Korean spy schools, of which his wife was one. Jenkins tells his story with the assistance of Frederick, a reporter for Time stationed in Japan at the time of Jenkins's family's dramatic departure from North Korea.

It is riveting. I started it when I got on the plane in DC and finished it about halfway over the country. It is a must read for anyone involved with Korea, Japan, or the U.S.

A heartwarming and heartbreaking dystopia. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I had read McCarthy's No Country for Old Men after the excellent film version came out last year, but the pacing and intensity of his more recent Pulitzer Prize winning work was a bit harder to read than the dramatic story of greed and a psychotic killer. It took me about five tries to get into it, but when I did, it was really worth it.

It is the story of father and son travelling together in a world of ash, unable to trust other people who would feed on other humans because almost no food remained to scavenge from the fallen civilization. The story had passages I felt inspire to copy out because they were so powerful, but I can't seem to find the journal I jotted them down in... darnit! However, it's been awhile since writing has inspired me to do that... so you know it's pretty intense.

And unlike other post-apocalyptic works, the focus is always on the relationship of the main characters, not on the failings of mankind that brought this horrible world upon them. Not just how can an individual, but how can a family survive in the direst circumstances? Shocking, moving, confusing. I still think about it, even though I read it several months ago at this point.

An American Anti-War Classic. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Despite my high-school long love affair with Vonnegut's works that began one sick day in ninth grade when I devoured Cat's Cradle to cure myself of a fever, it took me several starts and stops to read his most famous work. However, even having outgrown my preference for some Vonnegutisms, I can see why this work is considered a classic.

The main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes "unstuck" in time as a response to his traumatic experiences in the war. Although many other strange and fascinating things happen in his life (including hooking up with movie stars on other planets--seriously), the narrative, like Pilgrim's mind, keeps returning to his experiences in the war, culminating in the bombing of Dresden. So much of what is shocking is precisely how much more shocking the realistic events of the war are than the semi-science-fiction vignettes that follow lucky/unlucky Billy.

Especially relevant now as we daily forget how far removed from the daily action of the war in which America is currently involved.

So yeah, I've been peppering all of this depressing and shocking material with mindless and fun chick-lits. None of them dreadfully memorable or worthy of mentioning here.

Enough of the literature for now. Regular posting will resume soon.


  1. Every time Anne and I tried to go to the Spy Museum there was a long line and we gave up. It sounds like you had better luck, though.

  2. We did. And then we spied on Greenpeace guys from a Starbucks. There are pictures... and I will post them soon.

  3. I keep meaning to go to that museum. Marc used to live in Yugoslavia back when it was Yugoslavia, and his parents, being diplomats, were frequently tailed by the KGB. He has some interesting stories.



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