Lots of my Instagram followers have asked me about all the books written by Chinese, Japanese and Korean authors that I unboxed a little while ago so here they all are! This post is long overdue but I’ve finally got my act together and rounded up all my new reads. I chose all these books as part of the Travelling Bookworms challenge that I’m taking part in this summer in an effort to read more diverse authors. I’ve spent the past few weeks visiting family in China before travelling around Japan and Korea for the first time, hence I’ve only been reading Oriental authors this summer.
Keep on reading to find out more about these titles and my initial thoughts!
A boat arrives in Shanghai harbour, carrying an important official in the Nationalist Party and his striking wife, Leng. Amid the raucous sound of firecrackers, gunshots ring out; an assassin has shot the official and then himself. Leng disappears in the chaos.
Hsueh, a Franco-Chinese photographer aboard the same boat, became captivated by Leng’s beauty and unconcealed misery. Now, she is missing. But Hsueh is plagued by a mystery closer to home: he suspects his White Russian lover, Therese, is unfaithful. Why else would she disappear so often on their recent vacation? When he’s arrested for mysterious reasons in the French Concession and forced to become a police collaborator, he realizes that in the seamy, devious world of Shanghai, no one is who they appear to be.
A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.
One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.
When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.
After the early death of her philandering husband, Etsuko moves into her father-in-law’s house, where she numbly submits to the old man’s advances. But soon she finds herself in love with the young servant Saburo. Tormented by his indifference, yet invigorated by her desire, she makes her move, with catastrophic consequences.
A band of savage thirteen-year-old boys reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical, and sentimental, and train themselves in a brutal callousness they call ‘objectivity’. When the mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship’s officer, he and his friends idealise the man at first; but it is not long before they conclude that he is in fact soft and romantic. They regard this disillusionment as an act of betrayal on his part – and the retribution is deliberate and horrifying.
‘I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.’
Yeonmi Park was not dreaming of freedom when she escaped from North Korea. She didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All she knew was that she was running for her life, that if she and her family stayed behind they would die – from starvation, or disease, or even execution.
This book is the story of Park’s struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China’s underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist – all before her 21st birthday.
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
It’s taken me so long to write this post that I’ve actually read over half of these already and most of them have taken me by surprise and exceeded expectations! I found Mishima and Han Kang’s work to be a lot darker than I imagined but both are now amongst my favourite authors. Full reviews coming soon!
Spot any you’ve already read or are planning to read? 📚