One of the bookstagrammers/book bloggers I enjoy following is Simone and Her Books, and earlier this year (maybe January) and I remember her asking, “Do you ever get in periods of reading where you just stay in one part of the world for a while?” As I considered the question, I realized I was in my third book set in North-East Asia and that reading them in sequence was enhancing my experience so much more. So for this pairing challenge, I want to talk about the two book told about Koreans — both in North Korea and Japan throughout the 20th century. The third book I read during this period was The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which is a favorite of mine, but I think the other two mesh better for cohesive pairing.
We’ll start with the fiction choice: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
Pachinko tells the story of a Korean family living in Japan during World War II. As the war progresses through the attack on Pearl Harbor and on through the bombing of Hiroshima, the book showcases Korean values, why a family would choose to relocate from Korea to Japan, and how Koreans are treated as Japan starts to close their borders. It was incredibly compelling and emotional to read and I absolutely loved it. One of my favorite things about this book was the authors note, in which Lee wrote about the time she spent in Japan and how the book was influenced by hundreds of interviews over the course of her time living there.
And now, the nonfiction: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.
Nothing to Envy is the work of an investigative journalist living in South Korea who connected with defectors from North Korea. Through her relationships, she’s able to tell a horrifying story about the conditions in North Korea in the 1990s. These stories are truly beyond belief – imagine being so hungry that you blend grass in a blender to try to drink it. I won’t ruin any more of the shock but its fascinating to not only understand how bad it really was, but how they got there.
I hope you enjoy these two books and learn about a side of history not always taught in the West! Happy reading!