This memoir is written about the days that author, Suki Kim, taught English to boys at a university in North Korea where she posed as a Christian missThis memoir is written about the days that author, Suki Kim, taught English to boys at a university in North Korea where she posed as a Christian missionary. (These missionaries were allowed to teach there because the funding for the school itself had been largely from Christian organizations). In doing so, and in being a teacher, Kim was able to provide a look into the minds of the young people who live there.
We already know, (at least if you've done any reading on the topic at all), the ways in which people there are "brainwashed" to believe the things they do and about the ways in which they are cut off from the rest of the world in an almost alternate reality. Interacting with these kids absolutely depicted this exact thing. Kim's goals were to learn and report about this but to also instill in the boys some concept of thinking for themselves and the realization that things weren't as they were raised to believe.
The boys Kim taught were of the "elite" so had better lives and opportunities than the average North Korean which is crazy considering how they were still treated and controlled. Reading this gave me that same tense and anxious feeling I had when reading Orwell's 1984... nightmarish. The things these boys (men, really) believed about their country were ridiculous... basically believing they are the best in so many different ways and how the rest of the world envies them. But the ways they were controlled also was nightmarish. For instance, when construction needed to be done, the government took the kids from the school and forced them to do labor... But even scarier is that the kids would respond with the attitude that they didn't at all mind, as it was for their Dear Leader.
This was a fascinating look at the ways the environment can shape a person. They were all human and had curiosities (to the degree they were permitted, of course) and reading about everything they wanted to know, were learning, and the concepts their life experiences prevented them from grasping was disheartening and heartwarming at the same time. Ugh, there were frustrating feelings while reading this. Sometimes I just wanted to scream or shake people in the book!
I could see some people having issue with the deception that took place as part of Kim doing research for the book. In a way, I did feel for the boys who I did feel were exploited to a degree, as they may never know the truth of their interactions with Kim. Though I do feel Kim's reporting was well done and that she genuinely cared for these kids. It was interesting to see the ways she creatively responded to their questions both to keep herself out of trouble but also to try to enlighten them a little.
I wish there had been more to the ending. But I guess there isn't really more to tell considering the memoir goes through 2011 and nothing has changed in the way things are there. I would be interested, though maybe not possible, to see where these boys are years later.
I do highly recommend this book, especially along with Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick if you haven't read that. Both will teach you a lot about life in North Korea and both are fascinating reads.
One of the things I liked best about this book was how it was a eulogy of sorts to the author's friend (and former college roommate). Before reading tOne of the things I liked best about this book was how it was a eulogy of sorts to the author's friend (and former college roommate). Before reading this, I had wondered if there was any possibility that maybe the writing of this book was exploitative at all. But what I found instead was that the author seems to have genuinely cared for and regarded this man and wanted to tell his story.
Growing up in a neighborhood of low socioeconomic status where "hustling" was often a way of life, Robert Peace, seemed to overcome this and eventually made it to Yale, where he earned a degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. But going back home after college brought Peace back into the dangerous lifestyle that many at home lived.
What I found interesting, for one, was how post college life turned out differently than expected for a lot of people. This surprised me I guess, because you would assume that someone who goes to an Ivy League school will have it All. Figured.Out afterwards. And I was surprised and frustrated, as I'm sure most readers would be, at how Peace's life choices did not reflect nearly what he was capable of. This book, in addition to being a thoughtful biography, was also an interesting look at the societal dynamics of growing up in the "hood" and the impact this continues to have on the kids who grow up there, even when they are provided with great resources. The thought is that the concept of "choices" may still be different, to a certain degree, based on the environment that shapes you during your childhood. Peace's decision making was influenced greatly by his father, who was in jail for double murder (and for whom Peace worked steadily by researching law books to try to fight for him legally), and in his desire to provide for his mother who worked tirelessly to provide the best for him. But despite how smart he was, he often made decisions that were not in his best interest.
This book is sad because of the tragedy and how Peace's life ends (and knowing throughout the reading that this is coming up), but I was comforted by knowing that Peace really did a lot during the short life he led (both for himself and for others). He definitely led a full life.
I thought everything was well researched and well written. The author could have easily just focused on writing what he knew and added in a couple interviews. But he was very thorough, providing history about the town, the schools, Peace's mom and the way she parented her son, etc.
I was so excited to read this because of all the buzz it was getting. It also started to show up on lots of year end lists. So we finally bought out oI was so excited to read this because of all the buzz it was getting. It also started to show up on lots of year end lists. So we finally bought out own copy if it. I tried so hard to love this. But I ended up being so disappointed. :(
This book literally tells two different, parallel stories that take place during World War II in France and Germany. The Paris story is about a blind girl who has to escape from her home town and who experiences life in the nazi occupation. The Germany story is about a boy who goes to a school where he is being trained to be a nazi but experiences mixed feelings about it.
And that is essentially the plot in its entirety. I have definitely enjoyed character driven stories in the last, but I can't say this is what this was. I thought of this almost as a setting driven story. The writing in this book was gorgeous! So the way the author described scenes was truly beautiful. In fact, the very first page/chapter is just a paragraph and drew me in because of the writing. I just felt that the other aspects were lacking to the point that I rarely had the desire to pick the book back up. The other thing I found somewhat bothersome was that most chapters were extremely short and since they alternated between the two stories it felt disjointed, even though the concept of alternating chapters has never bothered me before. And just as an FYI, the two story lines intersect only slightly and not until at least 400 pages in the book.
So in summary, All The Light We Cannot See is beautifully imagined, but there was nothing in the story or characters that made me want to read more. I finished this one for the sake of finishing it.
Jason and I chose Frankenstein as our Halloween/October/Fall read-a-long this year. (I read the signet classic mass market paperback version picturedJason and I chose Frankenstein as our Halloween/October/Fall read-a-long this year. (I read the signet classic mass market paperback version pictured at the top, but Jason read a really nice hardcover that included illustrations which is pictured on the right).
Overall, it was just okay. It certainly was not one of the scariest books ever, as many lists online try to say. Maybe in 1818 the thought of it was scary. I think maybe the theme itself was sort of scary, more so than the actual plot. The theme being how sometimes we get carried away and the decisions we make will haunt us and create horrible consequences.
In case you weren't aware of the origin of this story, Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who decides he can create a living creature, so he toils away in his laboratory until he creates a living being. This creature, who remains nameless, (yes, Frankenstein refers only to the scientist who created the monster), is a gruesome being who scares people in his image alone and whose actions taunt Frankenstein.
This was a pretty sluggish read. Even though it was less than 250 pages, and even though the story itself is interesting enough, it was so drawn out and could have used some editing... Part of this is that it was written in 1818 and maybe that's just how people talked?? (The story is all told in first person, though there are a few different narrators)... but I've read other older classics and didn't always feel this way. I wanted to shout at it to "move on already!" Jason felt the same way. It became a running joke that we each had to sit down and push on through. In fact, the last night I was reading it I only had about seven pages left and just could not stay awake for them, and it felt like it took me forever the next morning to finish those pages!
I mentioned earlier that parts of it were so ridiculous. Frankenstein is considered one of the first science fiction novels ever written. But the science fiction part of it, such as when the monster is created, had me laughing with the lack of reality. Whereas nowadays, even a fictional story would have to have some type of rationality that even if unreal makes sense in the story, in Frankenstein, it was more like... he wanted to create a living being, so he worked hard in his laboratory, and voila! a monster is made! Many parts of the book lacked the kind of detail and polish that could have more thoroughly illustrated the scene; this is despite feeling in other ways that the book was sluggish with over narration.
All that being said, Frankenstein really wasn't horrible... it is just definitely outdated. It was still interesting to read the origin of the story that has become so well known today. I won't even say that I would never read it again... I do think that talking about the themes of the book etc. would make it a good group read. And with Jason and I reading it together, there were many times we were able to talk about the plot and laugh at something ridiculous or be confused together about when something happened or exclaim at a plot point together. It was also very interesting to see how the modern interpretation of Frankenstein differs so dramatically from the original one created by Mary Shelley. Jason feels that reading the illustrated version improved his experience of the book, though that one is a heavy copy so you would need to plan on keeping that one at home!
I had heard of The Sparrow once or twice before and knew it to be highly underrated (in terms of how well known and popular it was) and heard it was aI had heard of The Sparrow once or twice before and knew it to be highly underrated (in terms of how well known and popular it was) and heard it was amazing and life changing. (Read the reviews on any site... you'll find mostly 5 star reviews all touting similar reactions). So with the recent read-a-long hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity, and my recent desire to jump back into blogging and reconnecting with the book blogging world, I decided to join right in. I have very mixed thoughts after reading this. First let me explain briefly what it's about as well as any confusion you may have at reading the genre categories!
The basic plot is about the Jesuit Society hearing alien transmissions from another planet, so they send a team to investigate and learn about what other possible life forms there are. Bad things happen there, though, and only one person returns to Earth where he is interrogated, questioned, judged, etc. The narration flips back and forth from the current time (year 2060) after Emilio Sandoz has returned and from 2016-2019 when this mission started. The flip flopping of the narration adds to the tension because you know something horrible happened and just a little about it and the other narration builds to that end we're all trying to figure out.
This was a heavy book to read -- dense in its 405 pages. It was actually more engaging than I expected it to be in a lot of ways. But I can see where a lot of readers felt the middle dragged.. but I think it's not that it dragged but that it's that the focus was on the life found on the other planet, Rakhat. I felt like I learned. SO. MUCH.... only it is all fiction, LOL. I don't read a whole lot of scf-fi or fantasy so I may just not be used to how the genre works, but I don't remember in the few things I have read of having to focus as much on specifically learning the terms, the cultural factors, etc. as opposed to learning it indirectly through the movement of the story itself. The reason for all that here was because the main characters' purpose in going to this world WAS to learn these things, so part of moving the story along, I suppose, was learning and explaining these things. How their language works. Why they speak the way they do. What their culture is like. How it operates economically. I just sort of felt like maybe it was a bit much... maybe I just feel guilty that I can tell you so much about the Runa and Jana'ata and Ruanja and K'San and Kashan and Supaari VaGayjur and spacial observation vs. non-visual etc. etc. but I'm still working on understanding a lot of real life things in history and current events.... LOL!! It also took me about 1/2 to 3/4 of the book to really start to connect to most of the characters.
The other thing is that I expected to find some great insights into faith and related philosophy and, for me, it wasn't as significant as I thought it would be. I did take away some thoughtful little nuggets. But I guess I had just expected more and wanted it to be life changing for me too. That being said, I also think that there is a lot to talk about and I think that after discussing things with other readers I would maybe come away with more. There were horrific things in this book and some of it did seem extreme. I understand that the extreme nature was maybe necessary to emphasize the point of Emilio's bitterness, but yikes! There was one part that did make me cry having to do with one of the kids on Rakhat. I usually consider something in a book affecting me like that as a good thing.
So for these reasons, I was pretty torn and had mixed thoughts after finishing the book. The book itself was good... yes, and overall I did enjoy reading it. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Only to those who very genuinely have an interest in this book and topic. I have found in reading the reviews on the book sites that this is one of those books people either LOVE or HATE. Obviously, I don't fall into either extreme, I seem to be the exception! There is a sequel, Children of God. I am curious what happens, but I'm feeling so/so about reading it again. Then again, I did invest all that time in learning about that world so maybe I should go for it. :)
And just an interesting thought I had while reading this; in some ways, this reminded me of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett which I loved. They're both about traveling to a foreign environment for research and controversial issues about the culture that is encountered. Anyway, just had to throw that in there!