I love reading about history and historical fiction. I knew I would like The Kinship of Secrets based on the summary. But I was excited because I almost knew nothing about Korean history and I actually wanted to. Did The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim fulfill the promise? Read on to know more.
Just a short while after the World War II and the subsequent freedom from Japanese annexation, Najin and Calvin Cho move from Korea to the USA on the lookout for better prospective.
With a plan to return within two years, they take only their eldest daughter Miran with them, leaving the youngest Inja in the care of her aging parents and Najin’s brother.
Unexpectedly, the Korean War breaks out making it almost impossible for a reunion in the near future. Miran grows in an American suburbia, under the guilt and pressures of being the chosen one, while Inja’s problems are much bigger living in a war torn country with scanty resources.
When they finally get to meet after a decade and a half, would there still be a chance to family despite the horde of secrets between them? Would the years passed matter or just the familial bonds good enough form the rest of the story in The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim.
I was not sure what to expect when I picked the book and frankly it took me a while to get into the story. But about 30 pages in, I was completely sucked in. The alternating narratives between the sisters worked very well in this case as did the straight forward narrative.
Kim ensures the reader can trace the disparity between the two girls and the parallel worlds they live in. I adored the much more simplistic life of Inja and her devoted love towards her uncle, despite the dire circumstances they faced.
And Miran always knew that she had a privileged life and bore the brunt of it. She feels like an outsider in her own house when they all speak Korean and grows up watching the packages sent to Korea.
I am usually “heartless” when it comes to fictional characters, but somehow the plight of the young girls made me sob like a baby. And the credit goes to the author for that.
The Kinship of Secrets was an emotional read with compelling characters that are quintessentially Asian. I was surprised to see the many similarities between the traditions and yesteryear’s habits (as heard from family) of Korea and India. The importance of family and putting others first seem to be a common thread.
The Kinship of Secrets is inspired by a true story, so do not miss out on the Author’s note at the end of the book. I am looking forward to reading her other book, The Calligrapher’s Daughter.
What worked for me
The alternating narratives works well and shows the contrast between the lives of the sisters.
I loved the author’s writing style and it invoked so many emotions in me. She also made reading the Korean history more fun.
Knowing that The Kinship of Secrets was inspired by true events made it all the more interesting.
What may have been better
I felt the pre-adolescent chapters could have been shorter.
The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim is a poignant tale about sisterhood, family and secrets that keep them all together. If you are interested in an emotional read with lots of Korean history, you won’t be disappointed with this one.
Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old convenience store worker, doesn’t fit into the social constructs. She doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend, kids nor a well paying job – in short an outcast.
Keiko has been working at the same convenience store for eighteen years and has a routine that works for her. She has no interest in trying to fit in to the society but conveniently masks her oddities. She goes even to the extent of faking an illness which makes her too weak to work anywhere else.
Her peaceful life goes into a toss when she meets another part time worker, Shiraha who is an outcast as well. They share a lot of commonalities, and they even get into a relationship charade to shut the voices of the society.
How did that turn out? You will have to read Convenience Store Woman to know more.
My initial thoughts
I love reading character driven books and Convenience Store Woman does a great work at that. Keiko is a strong character who accepts and has no problem being the odd duck. She survives the pressure on woman to marry and birth a child at the right age without openly rebelling against the system. She is on the brink of a break down and yet manages to get through the motions of life. I adore the odd duck she was.
Convenience Store Woman is a melancholic, relatable and yet so surreal. It is quintessentially Japanese and is a great choice to read if you want to know more about the country’s culture and society.
I liked reading about the operations of a convenience store and the role it plays in helping Keiko to mimic other humans. Maybe she is on the spectrum but the author never explicitly discusses that. I am glad I found Convenience Store Woman among the hundreds of recommendations on bookstagram.
Satoru finds a feral cat with a crooked tail resting on his silver van and begins feeding it, regularly. They settle into an understanding that he would get to pet the cat for food. But then, the cat meets with an accident and it is Satoru that nurses him back. One thing leads to another, he adopts the cat and names him Nana, much to the indignation of the cat!
Nana and Satoru settle into a comfortable companionship. After a few years, Satoru decides to give away Nana and they embark on a journey to find a suitable home among his friends. Read The Travelling Cat Chronicles to join the duo on their travel through Japan and Satoru’s childhood memories!
My initial thoughts
I LOVED THIS BOOK – there I said it! It might made me laugh. Had me heartbroken. Once I even got frowned upon for letting out a chuckle while on the treadmill at the gym. Despite having guessed the climax, I was not prepared for it. I didn’t want the book to end but I am glad it ended the way it did.
Our cat Nana, is feisty, snarky and funny as a cat can be (sorry, Garfield). There are multiple POVs but I obviously, loved Nana’s version the best. His overconfident attitude and voice was how I imagined how pets to be like. Great work with the translation. I was able to feel how South East Asian the story was, yet could relate to it, cat lover or not.
Things that worked for me
The easy writing style hooked me right from the beginning.
It has a perfect balance between funny and heart breaking.
The book didn’t feel like a translated work at all, and kudos to the translator!
Things that didn’t work for me
The plot is pretty predictable and don’t look for anything “intense”.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a feel good book, with a bittersweet ending. Be prepared to cry, laugh and snicker throughout!
Let us chat
Have you read this one? Have you read any other pet related books? If so which one would you recommend? Let us talk.
There is something with South East Asian Literature that I can’t put my finger to, they always leave me confused whether I like them or not. I picked Kitchen by Yoshimoto worrying if I will get it, especially seeing that it has several raving reviews on Goodreads.
I didn’t want to read the blurb and jumped directly into the book. Read on to know how that went.
Kitchen begins with Mikage Sakurai grieving the death of her grandmother, in their kitchen. Yuichi and his mother Eriko takes her in as she has no other family left. Mikage throws herself into cooking and food, which becomes part of her heart and dreams.
Eriko is a transvestite, who runs a gay night club and lives with her son Yuichi who studies at Uni. He was a man for a long time until his wife died and then he changes ‘her face and her everything’ with the help of operations. The busy mother – son gets closer to Miakge through her home cooked dinners, until Mikage moves away to pursue her culinary dreams.
A few months later Eriko is murdered by a smitten man. Tides change and it is now Yuichi that has to face the loss and grief. How Mikage helps Yuichi to cope with the loss and how her passion for food keeps the friends sane forms the rest of the story in Kitchen.
Kitchen is followed by a shorter tale named Moonlight Shadow in which the theme of grief and loss of beloved ones continue. Satsuki lost her boy friend Hitsohi to an unforeseen road accident. She picks up running to push her sorrows away. Hitoshi’s brother who lost his girlfriend in the same accident dresses in her favorite costume as a cope up mechanism.
Satsuki meets Urara who tells her a way that can help her find a closure. Read the story to know if they find what they seek.
My initial thoughts
Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is full of eccentric characters and I can’t think of a better word than weird right now to describe the plot.
The leads in both the tales attempt to seek hope and overcoming of their destitution after the death. But how they attain that is way different.
Though both the stories are very minimal and to the point, I loved them like a fresh breath of air. Some stories make us long for more but Kitchen in all its incompleteness felt complete. I don’t want to know what Satsuki or Yuichi, who stayed in my mind long after I finished reading, did anymore because I know (and hope) they will be better.
Here is where I am lost. I dunno if I love or hate Yoshimoto’s writing. There were places when the writing felt right and there were places that were just off. I might have to read more of Yoshimoto’s to conclude whether it was the writing or the translation that failed to make me love it. Or maybe that was how the book was intended to be.
Things that worked for me
The simplistic narration talks about ordinary people leading a mundane life but had profound effect on me.
Yoshimoto’s writing is not polished or lyrical, in fact it does not even mince words (but that might be just the translation), yet the simple prose hits the point at most places.
I loved the usage of Kitchen as a metaphor and letting it play a character in the story.
Things that didn’t work for me
Kitchen is not a plot driven novel. And if you are looking for one with lots of twists and turns, you will be severely disappointed.
I felt the translation seemed off at places but I am not sure if it was intentional.
I am still not sure if the usage of transvestite and transgender is accurate. I think they were used interchangeably in the book, I might be wrong.
If you liked The Vegetarian by Han Kang, you might like Kitchen as well. You may like this one or not, but I am sure it will leave a lasting memory either way, just like it did for me.
Let us talk
Have you read this or anything from Japan? Do you like books that are not plot oriented? What other countries do you like me to read about? Let us talk.
I read The Vegetarian a while ago as a part of the A-Z challenge 2018 and yet I couldn’t post a review as soon as I would usually. I can blame my erratic blogging schedule but the truth is The Vegetarian by Han Kang left me so confused and perplexed that I had to step back and mull over what to say.
Watch out for my 100th review!
Yet I can’t think of a better fitting book that I have read in the recent times than The Vegetarian to be my 100th review on my blog. Yes, you heard it right. This would be my ONE HUNDREDTH review on this blog.
The Vegetarian talks of how cultural and societal norms make or break a person’s individuality and define one’s perspective. The Vegetarian consists of three parts Yeong-Hye’s past, present and future, from the perspectives of her husband, her brother in law and her sister Kim In-Hye.
In a country where meat is a staple food, Yeong-Hye stops eating meat, a reaction to the bloody nightmares that she had been facing every night. Until then a passive and unassuming wife, Yeong’s decision is criticized by everyone in the family including her father who even tries to force feed her some meat.
My initial thoughts
The more I read, the more intriguing (bizarre, even?) the book became. And given that it is such a short book, I finished it fairly fast, even when I had to re-read some parts to make sure ‘that’ really happened. Let us get on with the review, shall we?
The Vegetarian is the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2016 among many other awards. If this had gone by my usual luck with award books, I would have been bored by about 20% of the book and still be compelling myself to continue to struggle to the end. WELL, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN.
Just like that Yeong turns from ordinary, according to her abusive and shallow husband Mr. Cheong, to aberrant. What follows is the aftermath of her decision (to be become a The Vegetarian, rather a vegan) and how her family reacts to it. Watch out, The Vegetarian is not an easy read. It will make you question your fundamental assumptions.
The Vegetarian is on the surface a parable on how far can one go to stay put on one’s belief.
But it talks more about the sexism and status of women in a patriarchal society like Korea and other South Asian countries in a pliable and compliant role. The men in Yeong’s life, and thus the novel, are all disgusting in one form or the other and maybe that played a part in her decision to change her life into a ‘plant like’ being.
If you want to read something that has a simple yet lyrical writing, yet will make you think about your judgmental self you should pick The Vegetarian by Han Kang. But be wary of triggering content – like sexual and physical assaults, extra marital affairs and mental illness. You won’t be disappointed.
Let us talk
Have you read this book earlier? Does this book depict life in South Korea? Are there any other books set in South Korea that you have read? What books have you read this week?