Tuesday, June 25, 2013

global reading: books from South Korea + flash stories from around the world

This blog post is inspired by the general joy of global reading, a blog series, a new online lit course and a reading challenge. More, at the bottom of this post.

Reading into South Korea
After Belgium, the next destination of the Around the World Reading Challenge is: South Korea! So I went and looked for books from / or set in South Korea, and returned to the novel that won the Man Asia Literary Prize in 2012:

"Please Look After Mother" by Kyung-Sook Shin
A wonderful, fascinating and multi-faceted read - The novel tells a family story that spans two generations. It is set in Seoul city and in a Korean village, and told from the perspectives of daughter, son, husband, and the missing mother. A powerful book about secrets, lifes, and the changing times. This was the first book I read from South Korea, so that was double interesting, together with the larger view this novel gave on the change from the more traditional attitudes of the older generation to the modern attitudes of the younger generation, and also the difference betweewn countryside and city. Here's an example, the view of the mother (who always put her husband and children first), and the view of the daughter: 

"The apartments and studios that your siblings live in (in Seoul) all look the same to me. It's confusing which house is whose. How can everything be exactly the same? How do they all live in identical spaces like that?"
(Mother to daughter when she visits her in Seoul)

She takes out a notebook from her bag, opens it at a particular page. On it were thirty sentences starting with "I". - "Last New Year's Eve, I worte down what I wanted to do with my life, other than writing. Just for fun."
(description and lines from daughter, from a meeting with the brother)

The book also includes elements of magic realism, as well as reflections based on a karma, which gives an understanding for the different cultural and world view, here's an example:
"Do you think that things happening now are linked to things from the past and things in the future, it's just that we can't feel them? ... Sometimes when I look at my grandchildren I think they were dropped down from somewhere out of the blue, and that they have nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with me at all."
And interesting: it was only now, while copying those lines after re-reading, that I noticed this counterpart of the link between generations going missing: just as the children can't find their mother any more, the mother feels she has lost the connection to her children and grandchildren, that they aren't a continuation of the family tree.


Kimchi with Everything by John Mayston:
The other book I read from Korea had waited in my e-reader, only that i didn't realize this until i tried and searched it for "Korea", which created a neat list of all text lines that include the word. That's how I arrived at this e-book I once downloaded, which happens to be set in South Korea: Kimchi with Everything by John Mayston. It's written by John Mayston, who was based in a small town in South Korea and kept a diary that includes his trips in Korea, where he visited Seoul several times, and the Demilitarized zone, and the countryside, and even spent a weekend at a monastry. His year also included a week-long stay in Tokyo.  too.

Written in a casual tone, and moving through all seasons, and from teaching to travelling, it covers a lot of everyday impressions and shows the different faces of Korea. This passage is from the arrival day, when he is picked up at the airport and driven to his school and new home:

"Land for housing is at a premium in South Korea as it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As we drove along the road, it was no surprise to see that the majority of the populations of Koreans living in high rise buildings. Paddy fields were the other main feature of the journey but these were lifeless at this time of the year as the autumn harvest had already passed by."

And Kimchi? That's a popular Korean dish.


Reading about South Korea and the border to North Korea also brought back memories and impressions of an exhibition i visited in Vienna - the MAK museum ("museum for applied art") featured the theme exhibitions "Flowers For Kim Il Sung" while I was in Vienna. I hadn't know about the exhibition before, but when arriving there with my friedns, we go curious, and entered it.

The exhibition came with security check and an introduction on the debate around the exhibition (some noted that the posters and paintings and other items, which formed: "Flowers for Kim Il Sung - Art and architecture from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" could be interpreted as propaganda itself, while others pointed out that this actually is showing life in Norh Korea. While walking through the exhibition, we both wonder: "How would my life - or rather: I - have shaped out if I was born somewhere else, like for example, in North Korea?" - Very different, that's for sure.
(here's more about the trip to Vienna)

 It's a question that probably is more present while travelling, while being/living in another place for a bit.


Flash Stories

Flash Mob 2013 is a hybrid blog carnival and competition celebrating flash fiction in general, and the International Flash Fiction Day on June 22. More than 100 authors followed the called, and leaped. Wrote. And blogged their stories.

Links to the stories are now online at: Flash Mob 2013 - click the different continent links on top, and then click on the author images to get to the story - here are the shortcuts:

some story suggestions:


Book Links, Previous Reads & Finding Books

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there.

Reading around the world - i really enjoy this literal discovery-tour of the world, and it now made me go and pull some useful links together in a blog post: Finding books by country: helpful links + resources

More monday reads from other bloggers: link list at book journey

And my own book... is Worl(d)s Apart. True.

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