Moving to Korea meant downsizing. I couldn't bring the 400+ books from off my bedroom shelves. Instead, I packed my Nook and scouted out the bookstores Busan had to offer me.
The past three months have therefore been a hodge-podge of reading material. From children's lit to the forgotten softcovers in Aladdin's used bookstore, here are a few titles I've explored as of late...
But I don't know if I was holding my breath for a comfortable sense of magic that never materialized. Wonderstruck struck me as a little below wonderful. I found the first half of the novel...well...cute. I could imagine myself in the sticky New York summer, and I reminisced on my dreams of wandering museums after dark. But what draws me to children's literature is the magic, and, until the very end, I found little in this novel.
I wish the book had read as its ending had...hidden museums in a giant diorama? a silent connection in the middle of a black-out? There was so much that would have brought out the magic of this book had they only been introduced just a liiiiittle bit earlier. Overall, I can see and appreciate this story's importance. Ben's story is, in a way, discovering both his family history and the history of the Deaf community--a history that is so often ignored and forgotten despite its rich culture.
Favorite Quote: "Whatever happened, Ben knew that he belonged here, with his friend, and his grandmother, and the millions of other people waiting in the dark for the lights to come back on."
Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
I had fun with this book, but I can tell why some people wouldn't. Min Jin Lee had attempted to modernize the Victorian novel through the lens of a materialistic, Korean-American immigrant who more easily burns bridges rather than accepts help. Given the New York backdrop and the familiarity of Queens immigrant communities, I saw realistic characters in melodramatic circumstances. A few critics begrudge Lee the characters, though, claiming them to be one-dimensional stereotypes of the immigrant experience. I would argue that they were authentically frustrating.
The naive mother whose devotion to church makes her seem childish. The bullheaded father who can't comprehend his daughter's decisions. These aren't stereotypes made to be laughed at or fill a quota, but they're experiences many children of immigrants will recognize in their own families--even if it's not necessarily their own mothers and fathers. Every character seems to have a tangent, a white rabbit leading us astray from the protagonist and her ever growing credit card debt. Readers will find they've spent near 600 pages following Lee's cast. For some? This was a burden. Somehow melodramatic without all too much drama pushing the plot.
For me? I didn't mind it all too much. I was happy to visit these characters and their flaws.
Maybe it was being away from home and wanting to see the ensemble that usually fills my own NYC neighborhood--the grandmother on the bus with her over-sized, faux-fur coat, drawn on eyebrows, and feet dangling off her seat; the chain-smoking bodega owner who'd had my order memorized. Where some people saw stereotypes in Lee's novel, I saw my city and home. I look forward to picking up Lee's even more popular, Pachinko.
" 'Ho-tel?' she said in English. Family didn't stay in hotels. Mrs. Kim looked hard at her son.
'Mom, let's talk upstairs." His Korean was awkward. The inflections didn't match his adult voice, and he found that his words were slipping away. What was the word for divorce?"