This year (and it’s only been 2.5 months!) I read two books that completely blew my mind. I relearned the fundamental fact that “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
The first of those books was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a fictional memoir about the Japanese occupation of Korea throughout the 20th century. The second was Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, a non-fiction account of “ordinary lives” in North Korea. I learned SO much.
I found out about Nothing to Envy on an Instagram post, suggesting that someone participating in the #harpiesreadtheworld reading challenge may use this for the category of Read a Book About A Country the US is in Conflict With. Which got me thinking, What do I look for in a book, if I want to learn about another country and their history?
I’ve learned through past reading experiences that when I’m reading about a place I don’t know too much about, I really love feeling like 1) the book is well researched, 2) the book is fully set in reality, and 3) I need significant context to feel like I understand the entire story.
Pachinko and Nothing to Envy squarely worked for me and while they covered both genres of fiction, and non-fiction, I learned so much from both of them.
To illustrate, some recent books that have been popular but hasn’t worked for me are Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Both books had moments of magical realism in them, that lost me, made me feel like I wasn’t learning because the story wasn’t real. And speaking of context, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo and The Alice Network didn’t dive quite deep enough for me or provide me with enough information that I can feel like I really learned a lot.
So, getting back to the positives, here are books that I would recommend to get serious context in to conflict in other countries.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Japan/Korea)
- Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (North Korea)
- Pushkin’s Children by Tatyana Tolstaya (Russia)
- No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid (Syria)
Happy reading – and happy learning!