Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The story told in ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982‘ by Cho Nam-Joo goes like this.

Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, she has been married for three years, she is a housewife and has a one-year old daughter. One day she starts behaving strangely. Soon she starts assuming the personalities of other people, and it appears that she is not playacting, but she really thinks she is those people. Her husband is worried. The story then takes us into the past to the time Kim Jiyoung was born, we get to know about her parents, about her life as a child, about her time in school and later university, how she grows up into a young woman, her time at work, about the sacrifices she has to make because she is a girl, the same kind of sacrifices her grandmother made, her mother made, and her elder sister made, and how events progress to the present. Are we able to find out what happened and why Kim Jiyoung behaves strangely? You have to read the book to find out.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982‘ is an insightful depiction of contemporary Korean society and family, the challenges, the discrimination and the sexism that Korean women face everyday in a system which is geared against them, the sacrifices they make and how they are taken for granted, and how though it looks like things have changed for the better in recent years, some things never change. If we think about it, it is probably not just about Korean women, but it is really about women everywhere in the world. It is a heartbreaking and haunting book. Through the story, the author Cho Nam-Joo uses actual facts and statistics to critique Korean society and it is very insightful and eye-opening to read. Cho Nam-Joo’s prose is spare and matter-of-fact and it adds to the poignancy of the story.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982‘ is a book to be read and pondered on, on where we are as a society and how far we still have to progress yet.

Have you read ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982‘? What do you think about it?

I discovered ‘Please Look After Mother‘ by Kyung–Sook Shin recently and I loved the plot summary and decided to read it. This is my first proper Korean novel, so Yay! 😁

The story starts with one day, when mother goes missing. Her grown-up children start searching for her. As this is happening, we see the present and the past unfolding through four different perspectives. We get to know more about mother and her relationship with her children, her husband, and other people who were part of her life. The stories are narrated in different voices – one of them is in the second person, another is in the third person, another is in the first person. This is the first time I am reading an extended narration in the second person. It is intimate, it tries to get the reader involved in the story, almost makes the reader into a character, which is very fascinating. The main character in the story, the mother, is the archetypal, long-suffering universal mother, the woman who works hard and sacrifices everything for her family, the woman who is taken for granted by her family. It is a heartbreaking story.

I liked ‘Please Look After Mother‘ very much, though most of it was heartbreaking. It was almost like reading a novel by a twenty-first century Korean Thomas Hardy. I am happy that I read my first Korean novel. Kyung–Sook Shin seems to be one of the contemporary Korean greats and her book ‘The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness‘ also seems to be acclaimed. I hope to read that sometime.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Do you know what happens to all the things we did together in the past? When I asked my daughter this, although it was you I wanted to ask, my daughter said, ‘It’s so strange to hear you say something like that, Mother,’ and asked, ‘Wouldn’t they have seeped into the present, not disappeared?’ What difficult words! Do you understand what that means? She says that all the things that have happened are actually in the present, that old things are all mixed in with current things, and current things mingle with future things, and future things are combined with old things; it’s just that we can’t feel them. Do you think that things happening now are linked to things from the past and things in the future, it’s just that we can’t feel them?”

Have you read ‘Please Look After Mother‘? What do you think about it?

The Color of Heaven‘ is the third and final part of Kim Dong Hwa’s Colors trilogy.

This part continues the story of Ehwa and her mother as we follow the happenings in their lives. We also follow their love stories which follow different paths and move in different ways. There is yearning, longing, heartbreak, lots of mother-daughter conversations, allusions to images and metaphors from classical poetry, descriptions of flowers and nature and how they are metaphors to happenings in a person’s life according to Korean tradition and culture – all these and more are there in the book. There is one scene in the book that is different from the norm. Ehwa disappears one night from home and gets back the next morning. When her mother asks her where she was, Ehwa refuses to reply, but tells her mother that she would like to be punished. What happens after that for the next couple of pages in heartbreaking. I can’t tell you what happens though. You should read the book to find out. I really want to tell you how the book ended – happy or sad or open-ended – but it not for me to tell, it is for you to find out.

I loved ‘The Color of Heaven‘. It is a beautiful finale to this wonderful trilogy. I loved the whole trilogy – every part and every page. The blurb to the trilogy reads – “A sweeping trilogy of first love and second chances”. That is a perfect description of it. The whole story is lyrical, the artwork is brilliant, the depiction of traditional Korean culture is fascinating, the love stories are wonderful. But for me the best part of the book is the depiction of the relationship between Ehwa and mother. It is one of the most beautiful mother-daughter relationships that I have ever seen depicted in any book. Ehwa’s mother is one of the most beautiful mothers ever portrayed in fiction. She is one of my favourite characters ever. This trilogy is one of my favourite graphic novels, ever.

I am sharing a couple of scenes from the book. Pictures #1-2 form one scene and pictures #3-4 form a second scene.

Have you read ‘The Color of Heaven‘? What do you think about it?

The Color of Water‘ is the second volume of Kim Dong Hwa’s Colors trilogy. The story continues from where it left off in ‘The Color of Earth‘. We follow the lives of Ehwa and her mother as little things keep happening in their everyday lives, interspersed with the occasional big thing. Ehwa keeps growing as a person and discovers new things about herself and the world. Her friend Bongsoon is her partner-in-crime in many of these adventures.

My favourite parts of the book are the ones in which Ehwa and her mother have long conversations. During these conversations, Ehwa asks questions to her mother and learns new things from her, sometimes they share things about their lives, and at other times they do things together. It is such a beautiful depiction of a mother-daughter relationship. Sometimes we forget that they are mother and daughter and we imagine that they are best friends, till Ehwa makes fun of her mother on something, and Ehwa’s mother responds, “Is that the way to talk to your mother?” That scene always makes me smile 😁

There are interesting depictions of traditional Korean culture in the book, some of it fascinating, and others that we find hard to accept if we read it with 21st century sensibilities. Many of the conversations in the story have allusions to images and metaphors from classical poetry, which are fascinating to read. ‘The Color of Water‘ ends in an interesting way, and I can’t wait to find to find out what happens to one of the characters in the third part.

I am sharing some of the pages from the book to give you a feel for its beauty. Pictures #1–3 form one scene.

Have you read ‘The Color of Water‘? What do you think about it?

‘The Color of Earth’ by Kim Dong Hwa is the first volume of the trilogy, and is a manhwa – that is, the Korean version of the manga or the graphic novel.

The Color of Earth‘ is about a young widowed woman and her young daughter Ehwa. The story describes how young Ehwa experiences the beauty of the natural world as she grows up, while navigating the transformation that happens to her body, her emotions and her mind. The story is also about how Ehwa’s mother experiences loneliness and what happens when there is a possibility of discovering love again.

The book is beautiful, lyrical, poetic – if a graphic novel can be described as lyrical and poetic. The artwork is gorgeous, and as I am not an expert, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. In some places, the artwork is simple and straightforward with clean lines. In other places, it looks like pointillism – drawing a picture just with points. In other places there are intricate line drawings. The nature scenes and the rain scenes are incredibly beautiful. The book can be read just for its artwork. The relationship between Ehwa and her mother is a central part of the book and it is beautifully depicted. It is almost like reading about the Korean Lorelai and Rory. Ehwa’s mother is one of the most beautiful characters ever depicted in any graphic novel. The story also depicts traditional korean culture very intricately. I loved that aspect of the book. The book also has a beautiful, poetic introduction by the author and an essay at the end describing the book’s themes, by Hwang Min-Ho.

I loved ‘The Color of Earth‘. It is such a beautiful start to the trilogy. I can’t wait to read the second part now.

I am sharing some of the pages from the book so that you can experience the beauty of its artwork. The first three pictures are continuous and depict one scene, and so do the next two.

Have you read ‘The Color of Earth‘? What do you think about it?

I first discovered Madame de Sévigné’s letters through Somerset Maugham’s book ‘The Razor’s Edge‘. In that story two of my favourite characters sit on the bank of a river everyday and read Madame de Sévigné’s letters to each other. I have wanted to read those letters since that day.

I later discovered that in Marcel Proust’sIn Search of Lost Time‘, Madame de Sévigné’s letters are the favourites of the narrator’s grandmother and mother. Not surprising, as Somerset Maugham has a long record of lifting stuff from his favourite French writers. Why would an American sit on the riverbank in the French countryside and read Madame de Sévigné’s letters with a French woman? I didn’t think like this when I read Maugham’s book. I didn’t ask this logical question. I am glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t have discovered Madame de Sévigné otherwise.

There are 1120 known letters of Madame de Sévigné today. (or 1386 letters, depending on who is counting 😊). There are around 138 that are present in this selection. The earliest letter is dated March 1648, and the last letter is dated March 1696 – that is 50 years of correspondence right there. As these are all letters written by Madame de Sévigné to her family members and friends – her daughter is the recipient of most of her letters – they are very personal. She praises her daughter and showers affection on her in every letter and it is endearing to read. However, if Madame de Sévigné was around today, she would be shocked to know that her personal letters, have been translated into many languages and are being read by strangers in other continents. But I am glad that her granddaughter broke all kinds of etiquette and published her grandmother’s correspondence. We would have lost a great literary and historical work otherwise.

There is another important feature to these letters. As Madame de Sévigné knew most of the prominent French personalities of her time – she was close friends with Madame de Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld, and she even knew the Queen and the King – her letters give a first-hand insider’s view of how historical events unfolded during her time. She writes about how a corruption scandal rocked French society of those times, about how different people gain the King’s favour and fall out of favour, how the King’s mistresses are jealous of each other, about the different wars that the French fought and the personal impact they had on Madame de Sévigné and her friends (because friends and family members were deployed in the army on the front), the complex relationship between France and England and their royal families, her own friendship with Madame de Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld – Madame de Sévigné writes about all these and more. One of my favourite parts is that in which she compares the plays of Racine and Corneille. A new play called ‘Bajazet’ by Racine has just been staged and people are raving about it, and this is what Madame de Sévigné says about it initially –

“Racine has written a tragedy called ‘Bajazet’ which raises the roof; indeed it doesn’t go from bad to worse like the others. M. de Tallard says it is as far above the plays of Corneille as those of Corneille are above those of Boyer. That is what you might call praise; it doesn’t do to keep truths hidden. We shall decide later with our own eyes and ears.”

Later having watched the play, she says this –

“‘Bajazet’ is very fine, but I do think it is a bit muddled at the end. There is plenty of passion, and not such unreasonable passion as in ‘Bérénice’. But to my taste I don’t think it comes up to ‘Andromaque’, and as for the finest plays of Corneille, they are as much above those of Racine as Racine’s are above all the others.”

In another letter she says this –

“Of course there are some good things in it, but nothing perfectly beautiful, nothing that carries you away, none of those speeches of Corneille that thrill you. My dear, let us be careful not to compare Racine to him, let us appreciate the difference. There are cold and weak parts, and he will never go further than ‘Alexandre’ and ‘Andromaque’. ‘Bajazet’ is less good in the opinion of many people and in mine, if I may make so bold as to quote myself.”

I have read neither Racine nor Corneille and so I can’t really compare. But I have seen Racine’s plays in the bookshop but I have never seen Corneille’s plays. I don’t know why. I want to read both and see whose works I like more.

Another fascinating thing I discovered from the book is about a person called Madame de Brinvilliers. Brinvilliers is accused of poisoning her family members after her lover’s papers (in which he talks about that) end up in the police’s hands, after he dies. There is not much evidence otherwise, against her, but still she is convicted and condemned to death. I am wondering whether Alexandre Dumas based his character Milady de Winter on Madame de Brinvilliers.

Madame de Sévigné’s letters are filled with beautiful lines, words of wisdom and quotable quotes. Reading her letters is like talking to our favourite aunt who has come visiting (or we have gone visiting to her place) and Aunt Marie tells us about the people she met and the interesting things that happened recently, and it is wonderful and charming to listen to. (Aunt Marie is from Marie de Rabutin–Chantal, which is Madame de Sévigné’s original name.)

Madame de Sévigné’s letters cannot be read like a journal or a diary or a novel or a nonfiction book. Because they are letters, it is assumed that the recipients know the people mentioned in them. And Madame de Sévigné mentions a lot of people. It is almost like the cast of ‘War and Peace’. So it is a more enriching experience to read them slowly, read more on the historical events she has written about, and research more on the personalities she has mentioned.

I loved reading the letters of Madame de Sévigné. It gives us an intimate, first-hand view of the happenings of that era. It is living history, as they say, and we get a glimpse of that in these pages through Aunt Marie’s charming voice. Reading this book is a perfect example of what Yoshida Kenko says – “It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.” Talking to Aunt Marie through this book and hearing her voice through these letters was beautiful.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. I am too lazy to type and so am sharing the picture of the page, sorry 😊

Have you read Madame de Sévigné’s letters? What do you think about them?

In Raymond Queneau’sThe Flight of Icarus‘, the novelist Hubert Lubert discovers one day that the main character in the novel he is working on, Icarus, has disappeared from the pages of the book. He is not able to proceed further with his novel in the absence of the main character. He is upset. His author friends suggest that he hire a detective who can find Icarus and get him back. Hubert hires this detective. Meanwhile, Icarus has jumped from the novel manuscript into the real world, ends up in a bar, learns to drink absinthe, meets a beautiful woman, and goes home with her. Before long, more and more crazy stuff happens, Icarus starts living his life in the real world, the detective is looking for him, two other characters leave the pages of the book to come in search of him, and another character leaves another book, because he doesn’t want to do what the author wants him to. How all this craziness ends and the situation is resolved forms the rest of the story.

The Flight of Icarus‘ is regarded as the only Queneau novel written in the form of a play. I have heard of novels-in-verse, but this is the first time I am hearing of a novel in play form. I thought that something which is written in the form of a play is a play. I don’t know why it is called a novel. Well, whether it is called a novel or a play – which is all just semantics anyway – it tells a fascinating story. This kind of story – a character jumping out from a book into the real world – has been done to the death in the 21st century by authors including Cornelia Funke, Jasper Fforde and even Jodi Picoult (with her daughter Samantha Van Leer), but when Queneau wrote this book, he was probably the first to do it in modern times. For readers unfamiliar with this plot device, this book is innovative and mind-blowing. It is a classic Oulipo experimental work which we would expect from Queneau. The other writers probably borrowed this idea from Queneau’s book.

The fact that the book is written in play form works in its favour, because the story moves through dialogue, it is engaging and the pages fly by fast. The vintage Queneau humour and puns are on glorious display throughout the book. Queneau even sneaks in philosophical passages in a conversation in humorous ways. In one scene, there are two characters having a conversation, and the first one is called Jean and the second one is called Jacques – we almost expect a third character called Rousseau there 🙂 I loved all the characters in the story, they all play their roles perfectly, but my favourite was one called LN – she is the person Icarus meets when he ends up in the real world. She is cool, no-nonsense, speaks her mind, and does what her heart wants. At the beginning of the book, the translator Barbara Wright talks about the challenges of translating Queneau into English, and the challenges of translating in general, and it is very fascinating to read.

I loved ‘The Flight of Icarus‘. It is a pioneering book and it was lots of fun to read. I think out of the three Raymond Queneau books I read recently, this is my favourite.

Have you read ‘The Flight of Icarus‘? What do you think about it?