Rain in August and a lightning storm to boot. Also we are in the middle of a heatwave. Isn’t 2020 crazy enough already?
But this strange weather on Sunday gave me the chance to sit down and think more about this interesting book by South Korean author Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang, and originally published in 2016
A story that begins with a 30-something-year-old “everywoman” who’s pressured to leave her job to care for her newborn. She begins to impersonate other women, both alive and dead. And her husband sends her to a psychiatrist.
The book focuses on the gender inequality experienced by Korean women – in their families, in schools, in the workplace, in society.
It’s told in a rather cold third-person voice and this may be a little difficult to get into, but it is a fascinating portrait of the life of this Korean everywoman, following all the sexism she faces, right from a very young age – when Kim Jiyoung is born, her mother even apologizes to her mother-in-law for not having had a boy instead!
It’s a short book but the 176 pages sure pack a punch.
Which booklover can resist a book about books? A book about readers? And also ticking some boxes for me, a book written by a woman, and translated into English from French.
And then it begins with one of my favourite quotes, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” by Jorge Luis Borges.
We begin on the metro where Juliette spends her commute watching people who are reading. There’s the man in the green hat reading a history of insects. The young woman reading romance novels whose eyes begin to tear around page 247. Juliette prefers watching readers to reading her own book.
One day, Juliette steps off the train at a different stop, takes a walk around the strange neighborhood, and finds herself at a house with the front door wedged open with a book.
There she meets Soliman whose house is full of books. And book passeurs come by, they deliver books to people. Not just randomly, but people they have watched, followed, until they can sense the book that person needs.
And it all sounds kind of lovely, the way I’m describing it, but while I expected to be enchanted by this book, I just wasn’t. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe because she doesn’t seem to really do much as a book passeur. And maybe because I didn’t really feel much of a connection to any of the characters. Maybe I was looking for something more whimsical.
This book wasn’t quite for me but maybe it will be for you.