“The White Book”

the white book

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Han Kang’s 2016 sparse, meditative, autobiographical (?) work, translated by Deborah Smith and published in English in 2017. I read a copy from the library (which they awesomely ordered after a purchase request. Thank you, library!).

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

A woman ruminates on the color white and its relationship to her mother’s first child, who died soon after birth.

The White Book is more poetry than narrative, which is always a challenge for me. The text feels more like notes for a novel than a novel itself.

I understood that I was reading deeply moving imagery and ideas but couldn’t emotionally connect. The strongest feeling I had was admiration for Han Kang’s prose (and that admiration is enough to give the book an above-average rating, despite how this intro must sound).

So, sadly, The White Book did not work for me, but for the reader who can connect, it will be loved. Because it is such a short book (and newly released in hardcover), I am not going to share all of the quotes I wrote down. I’ll give you enough to know if you want to read it, but I’m not going to spoil the best parts. Continue reading

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“The Taiga Syndrome”

the taiga syndrome 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Cristina Rivera Garza’s short 2012 novel, translated into English by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana in 2018. I read a Dorothy paperback from the library.

Buy the Book.

3 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

An ex-detective searches for a missing couple in the Taiga.

The Taiga Syndrome has a dreamy, hypnotic quality. The striking images make emotional (but not literal) sense, leaning on motifs and repetition and not clear plot progression. It’s pleasing for a time, but around page 100, my lack of emotional connection to the characters and events slowed me down. If there had been more than 19 pages left, I might not have finished it.

This feels like the work of an author who has a beautiful style and language but didn’t have a firm statement to make; writing for the sake of writing.

Rivera Garza is bilingual and has translated other Spanish work into English; I’m not sure why she didn’t translate her own writing. If anyone knows why or has a theory, please drop a line. Continue reading

“The Isle of Youth”

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Laura van den Berg’s second short story collection, published in 2013. I read the FSG Originals paperback edition from my library.

Buy the Book.

 4 out of 5 stars (stories averaged).

 Times Read: 1

One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. Van den Berg never does the obvious thing. Whenever I thought I was ahead of the story, it turned back on me. None of these stories go where you think, none of them end where you think a short story should end. It’s exciting as a reader and it’s a great strength of van den Berg’s.

A feeling of truth fills each story – hidden deep, never discussed, but felt by many. The Third Hotel also had this effect on me. An author who can do it more than once is one to hold dear.

Van den Berg doesn’t supply answers to everything. People disappear in these tales and you won’t find out what happened to them. People die and you don’t know how, the whys are not spelled out. But she gives enough emotional information to make you care and understand. You will come to your own conclusions and every conclusion is correct.

While most of the female leads are in marriages – often troubled – the real connections here are between siblings. Brothers, sisters, twins; dead, alive, estranged.


Continue reading

“Convenience Store Woman”

Convenience 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Sayaka Murata’s 2016 novel, translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori and published by Grove Press in 2018. I read a copy from the library.

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Keiko Furukura, a happy convenience store employee, has never been interested in dating or finding a “real” career. Pressured by friends and family, she approaches a recently-fired co-worker with a proposition.

What a delightful little book! Convenience Store Woman reads like a novella, with no chapters or parts (only section breaks) and can easily be finished in one or two sittings.

Our main character Furukura observes human behavior as an outsider; early on in life she realizes her idea of rationality and common sense upsets others and tries her best to get along in the world without drawing too much attention. Her family loves her, she suffered no abuse, this is just the way she is. It’s a great set-up and a refreshing character to spend time with, especially for anyone who prefers to focus on tasks over communication. Continue reading