I know this is rather late, but better late than never. I am trying to get back into blogging, instead of just updating my Goodreads account (though if you’d like more frequent updates, be sure to follow me there!). There is no set order or number of books I’ve chosen–this is very freeform, haha. Now, let’s get to the books!
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was the first book I read in 2017, and its weighty and heartbreaking story has stuck with me throughout the year. We follow four college classmates as they grow up in New York City after graduation. This book follows this foursome through decades, but Jude, who is now a powerful lawyer, keeps them all together, only so they can keep an eye on him. A Little Life, in my opinion, is truly about Jude, and his struggle to become less broken and life up to the expectations of his three friends, and family. This book is absolutely beautiful, and gives you a lot to chew on.
My next pick is another January read–A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I have recommended this book to countless people after finishing it, it is just that good. It is the perfect combination of gorgeously written, atmospheric historical fiction and a slow-burning plot that really allows the reader to connect with the characters. After Count Rostov is placed under house arrest in the attic of the grand Metropol hotel due to his aristocrat status, he makes the best of his stay by observing as much of the tumultuous outside world as he can from the confines of the hotel. He befriends a young girl, who he cares for as she grows older, and the bond they form is absolutely charming. I really fell in love with this book.
I read Human Acts by Han Kang in February, and it really struck me. Kang’s writing is absolutely gorgeous, and I think Human Acts is a better display than the more famous The Vegetarian. In Human Acts, we follow Dong-ho, a young boy who gets involved in the Gwangju Uprising, also known as 5/18, in South Korea, where the military crushed a student rebellion, killing many civilians. Dong-ho dies in the beginning of the book, and in subsequent chapters we read the perspectives of various acquaintances of Dong-ho. Kang’s writing and storytelling ability full inhabit each character and their harrowing experiences. I highly recommend anything Kang writes, and I am eager for more translations of her work to arrive in the United States.
Another novel that focuses on South Korea is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which I read in March. Pachinko tells the story of a young girl who is impregnated by a married Japanese man, who refuses to leave his wife for her. However, a young priest comes to her town and agrees to marry her if she will travel to Japan to live with him there. Lee then embarks on a vast family saga which follows a Korean family’s struggle to survive in Japan, where Koreans were discriminated against. Japan colonized Korea from 1910-1945, and accepted Koreans into Japan, but treated them as second-class citizens and forced them to give up their own culture and language to survive in Japanese society. Pachinko gives us a personal view of such struggle, and has opened many eyes to an often overlooked issue.
Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is another eye-opening read, and tells the story of women who painted with poisonous radium paint at watch-dial factories before, during and after World War I. I had never read of these women and their plight for compensation from their employers before, and this tale was shocking, but not completely surprising. Moore’s writing is really lovely, and while the story was a little choppy at times, the subject matter has really stuck with me after reading this.
Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson is another historical fiction title which addresses themes of racism and family in the American South during the 1930s. I found Henderson’s writing really lovely and the premise of the story is quite interesting and unique. A young woman births twins, but one is black and one is white. The night of their birth her father and the townspeople lynch the young black man who worked on their property, who supposedly raped her, but as the story progresses, secrets unravel and the truth eventually comes out. This can be a hard book to read at times, but I felt Henderson addressed such important historical issues in an impactful way, leaving us with a lot to think about.
I found a copy of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng at a yard sale, and I’m so glad I did! I had not yet read her first book when I picked this up, and wow–I was blown away by her writing! Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of two families in a small suburb of Cincinnati and the consequences of each of their actions. Little Fires Everywhere addresses social class, family and privilege in a very thought-provoking manner. I’m so glad I read this, and I am excited to read Ng’s first book.
I read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado for a book club, though I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Either way, this was an amazing collection of short stories! Each story is so unique, and Machado’s style of writing is engaging and lovely to read. The stories in this collection each blend fantasy, sex, horror and everyday life in a seamless fashion. While I didn’t enjoy two stories, I think overall this is a masterful collection and I am excited to read more from Machado in the future.
Lastly, I wanted to mention The Power by Naomi Alderman, which I received as a Christmas present and devoured soon after. The Power tells of a near future where women suddenly develop an electric power in their hands, which switches the gender ‘balance’ around the world. Women begin to rise up and claim what men have denied them–freedom, power and confidence. The way the story is crafted and framed is clever and thoughtful, and I enjoyed how each character we follow told a different aspect of the upheaval of society created by this power. A really good feminist piece of fiction!
And that’s it! An honorable mention goes to The Way Back to Florence by Glenn Haybittle, which I breezed through and was completely enamored with. I hope you all had great reading years in 2017, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.