Genre: Contemporary

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Posted January 13, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Earthlings by Sayaka MurataTitle: Earthlings (Goodreads)
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Published: Granta, 2020
Pages: 247
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

What I really loved about Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is the way she writes about social norms. She looks at social situations and asks the question, “What do we consider normal, and why it is so important?” Keiko was happy with her situation as a convenience store attendant, but the world and even her family wanted to push her to want more from her career and life. Murata seems to take this idea one step further in Earthlings.

The novel follows Natsuki, who even from a very young age felt like she did not belong here on earth. Both Natsuki and her cousin Yuu considered themselves to be aliens from another planet left on earth. Even when she got older, Natsuki had this viewpoint, and considered earth to be just a baby making factory. To keep her family off her back she married and hoped to just have a quiet life with her husband. However, her family kept demanding she have children and the pressure continuously grew to unhealthy levels.

Earthlings is a weird book; it explores the social pressures of reproducing but it does take a disturbing turn. I like the way Sayaka Murata looks at social issues and pushes the boundaries to show just how damaging they can be but I am also not a fan of the way this book ended. I do not think it is worth discussing the ending and if you have read the book, you know what I mean. I feel that the focus should be on how alienating social norms can be, and the way it made Natsuki feel. I have been married for eleven years and I know how frustrating it is when people ask me and my wife why we do not have children. This question is none of their business and tend to lead to awkward moments if you do decide to share the reasons. This novel plays with the social expectations of reproduction by constantly referring to the world as a baby making factory, like life has no value except creating children.

Sayaka Murata loves to push the boundaries with her characters and I am not going to try and diagnose these people in her books. I have seen far too many people claim Keiko was autistic in Convenience Store Woman, but does that really matter? You could probably label both Natsuki and her husband as asexuals in Earthlings, but it feels weird to label a fictional character. I am not a psychologist, so I do not want to diagnose Keiko with autistic and while I understand it is useful to show representation or to use psychoanalysis to analyse a book, I often find myself questioning the motives. If the author has not mentioned it, are we just projecting ideas onto a character? Granted this can be useful for understanding but it can also mean we are pushing these characters into a label and not letting them show us the problems with the world around us.

The writing of Sayaka Murata might not be for everyone, but I am looking forward to seeing what Ginny Tapley Takemori translates next. I want to read more books like this, where the author challenges social ideas and does it in interesting ways. This is a dark but very entertaining novel, and I am glad that Murata has done so well for herself in the English speaking world.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Posted October 15, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena FerranteTitle: The Lying Life of Adults (Goodreads)
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Published: Europa Editions, 2020
Pages: 322
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

What I love about reading Elena Ferrante is the way she is always writing about the experiences of women from a social-political standpoint. She always gives the reader a wide range of emotions and can make them feel uncomfortable with the situation but in a way that does not cause many to abandon her books. I have read all Ferrante’s works of adult fiction and was happy to see that my in-real-life book club was doing her latest release The Lying Life of Adults. Honestly, sometimes I think I go to my book club just to complain about the books we read, but I also attend to try and improve my ability to talk about literature with real life humans.

The Lying Life of Adults is the story of Giovanna, who is a young woman that is quickly discovering all the drama happening within her family. She learns why her father and her aunt Vittoria do not talk, and basically uncovers all the hostility and fighting that has been happening in the family all her life. This is not the easiest information to uncover, the adults all have their own side of the stories and they are all lying to make themselves look better in every situation. Ferrante’s books always deal with domestic drama and The Lying Life of Adults is no different, but what I really enjoyed about this novel, is the way it focuses on the lies.

It is hard to talk about The Lying Life of Adults without mentioning the Neapolitan series, those books got plenty of attention and will be the basis of all Ferrante critiques. Which is justifiable, the approach Elena Ferrante takes when writing really focuses heavily on the life of women living in Naples, particularly looking at sexism and domestic abuse. I find that The Lying Life of Adults seems to have similarities with The Story of a New Name, book two in the Neapolitan series. Both books have characters in the late teens, exploring the balance between family, love and academia. This journey fascinates me; I want to learn about young women discovering just how messed out their family is, while also realising how horrible men are, all while trying to decide their plans for the future.

Personally, I would have preferred if Elena Ferrante really dove into the psychological state of Giovanna. Not to mention the exploration into the feelings of attraction, sexuality, and emotion. There is so much that could have been unpacked if she wanted to really explore the damaging nature of these lies, and the effects they would have had on Giovanna’s outlook and future. I am fascinated for a deeper dive into the emotional damage, but I understand why Ferrante grazed over these topics. Not everyone wants to explore domestic abuse in so much detail and it would greatly change the tone of the novel.

If you have never read Elena Ferrante before, this might be a good place to start, I personally recommend The Days of Abandonment as a starting point, but this would work too. Fans of the Neapolitan series may not need any encouragement to check out The Lying Life of Adults but I hope you do. Obviously, I really enjoyed this novel, I think Ferrante is doing an excellent job at helping bring translated literature into the spotlight, thanks to the amazing work of Ann Goldstein.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Posted October 7, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko KawakamiTitle: Breasts and Eggs (Goodreads)
Author: Mieko Kawakami
Translator: Sam Bett, David Boyd
Published: Picador, 2020
Pages: 430
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After reading Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang), I moved on to Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (which is translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett & David Boyd). These two books seem to pair nicely with each other; one explores the everyday sexism that woman face, while the other is a look at fertility and body image issues. However, I am not the right person to talk about Breasts and Eggs, and I only choose to write down my thoughts as a way for my own personal recollection. This is a sensitive topic and having a male reviewer explore the topic feels wrong, like a male author writing about female sexuality.

Mieko Kawakami originally wrote Breast and Eggs as a novella, which was later rewritten into the novel that has recently been released. This is the story of three women, the unnamed narrator in her mid-thirties, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s twelve-year-old daughter, Midoriko. Three women at different stages in their lives, exploring the issues of motherhood, fertility and their bodies. These three narratives allow the author to explore a range of body issues, Makiko is unhappy with her breasts and is having breast enhancement surgery. Not just enlargements but she wants to change her nipples, make them pink. Midoriko is going through puberty and is unable to express her insecurities about her changing body. While the unnamed narrator wants to become a mother, but Japanese reproductive laws only apply to married heterosexual women that are unable to conceive.

As you can see, this novel explores so many important issues and as a man, I do not feel like it is my place to weigh in on these topics. Women have enough problems with men trying to dictate their lives. However, I did find it fascinating to explore the struggles these women are facing and the way they try to navigate through their lives. This is a book about the repression woman face in Japan, but like Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, I think this is a much more universal problem.

Breast and Eggs has so much to offer and so many issues to explore. I really liked that the narrator explored the idea of asexuality but was still interested in motherhood. She was aromantic but still wanted to be a parent and was looking at options on how to achieve that. I do not think I have ever read a novel about an ace’s journey into becoming a mum and it really highlights just how important it is to explore the different struggles people face from around the world. I read translated literature for this reason, I want to see the different social experiences, as well as the similarities. This is why we need representation from people all over the world, and the LGBTQI+ community.

I really hope that I was able to verbalise my thoughts on Breast and Eggs without overstepping my mark. While this is a book that women should be talking about and reviewing, I still think it is important for men to read as well. I simply want to write my thoughts on this book, so I have a record of my feelings; I post reviews on my blog to document my reading journal. I hope I am not offending anyone by talking about Breast and Eggs.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Posted September 30, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-JooTitle: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (Goodreads)
Author: Cho Nam-Joo
Translator: Jamie Chang
Published: Scribner, 2016
Pages: 163
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When you find a book that you want to share with everyone, and talk about constantly, you know you have found a new favourite. This is my experience with Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo, which has recently been translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang. I loved this novel so much, I re-read it, with only Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett & David Boyd) separating the two. While it makes for a great book pairing. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows an ordinary woman expressing her life to a psychiatrist. It is a very simple plot but allows Cho Nam-Joo to explore the everyday sexism woman face throughout their lives.

This is a novel exploring the gender inequalities facing women in South Korea today, but really this feels like issues facing women all around the world. While preparing to write this review, I saw the synopsis on GoodReads that started with “Kim Jiyoung is the most common name for Korean women born in the 1980s. Kim Jiyoung is representative of her generation.” This idea that it is a generational issue made me wonder, is the world getting better? Because the evidence of improvement is sadly lacking.

Kim Jiyoung is depressed.
Kim Jiyoung has started acting out.
Kim Jiyoung is her own woman.
Kim Jiyoung is insane.

I wanted to reference the above quote from the same synopsis because I think it is a reflection of the problems being faced in this novel. I am not a psychiatrist so I will not be diagnosing Kim Jiyoung in the review, but I will say that I disagree. She was sent to the psychiatrist by her husband and the book reads as a clinical assessment of the everywoman. Although I tend to think that both the husband and the psychiatrist are the problems, and not Kim Jiyoung. She might be suffering depression but then you have to diagnose all women with depression. She is not acting out; she is fighting to be heard and she is definitely not insane. Finally, why is Kim Jiyoung being her own woman a bad thing?

What I love is just how worked up I get while reading (or writing about) Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. However, this is a reason while I have been told by a few women that they hated this book. I was told a few times “I don’t need to read this book, I’ve lived it” which is understandable, not everyone wants to read about the sexism they experience every day. This is the type of book all men need to read but I do worry that like the husband and the psychiatrist, they might miss the point.

We can talk about all the incidents that happen in this novel, but that would be the entire book. The ones that stick with me the most is start with an incident in school where a boy is picking on Kim Jiyoung and causes her to get in trouble with the teacher. Later the teacher apologised to her and told her that he picked on her because he liked her, which made no sense to Kim Jiyoung. Next there she was denied a promotion at work because they thought she will get pregnant and leave the company and finally the way her own husband pressured her into having a child. While these incidents in the novel might make you angry, these three moments stuck with me the most. There is no reason these three should stand out more than all the other issues, they just encapsulates the sexism women face in childhood, their work life and by loved ones.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a quick read that really focuses on the everyday sexism that really needs to be stamped out. The novel references to some horrifying statistics facing women in South Korea, like the fact they are ranked 108th in the world in the Global Pay Gap Index, with women getting paid 67.2% of what men get paid. Australia is ranked 44th with women getting paid 73.1%, and Iceland has the best score but still women get paid 87.7% of what men get paid (I pulled these stats from the 2020 Global Gender Gap report put out by the World Economic Forum). This is a book that will stick with me for a long time, and I hope it helps myself and other men improve in the way we treat others around them, not just women but all genders.

Vernon Subutex Trilogy by Virginie Despentes

Posted September 24, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Vernon Subutex Trilogy by Virginie DespentesTitle: Vernon Subutex Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Virginie Despentes
Translator: Frank Wynne
Published: MacLehose Press, 2017-2020
Pages: 1088
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

How many translated series can you think of? Apart from Proust, or Elena Ferrante or Karl Ove Knausgård. Maybe, there are more than I expected; Virginie Despentes’ trilogy Vernon Subutex is currently the most talked about, with book three just being released in English. This trilogy started off as a cutting-edge look into the punk sub-culture of France but slowly, with each book the focus shifted, stepping away from the music industry, towards a mystery in book two and finally the third novel focusing more on a cult-like community. While Vernon Subutex is the focus of this trilogy, I found that the different styles of each novel become a little disconcerting for myself.

Virginie Despentes draws from her own career in these books, I suspect using some of her own experiences to drive the plot. Before becoming a novelist, she worked in a few fields including as a sex worker and a pornographic film critic. While these careers play a part in the Vernon Subutex trilogy along the way, it started with her experiences as a salesclerk in a record store and a freelance rock journalist. It is these aspects that I found the most fascinating, my love of music (particularly punk rock) really drew me to this series in the first place.

I loved how the first novel focused on the music, Vernon Subutex started working in this record store in his twenties. The store was legendary back in the days, but now thanks to the internet and digital music it is struggling. Even Vernon Subutex himself has a cult-like status (which plays out more later in the series) with people on the internet speculating that he owned the last recordings of musician Alex Bleach. What I loved the most about Vernon Subutex 1 was reading about the industry and exploring the dark side of the punk culture, from the violence and drug abuse often associated with this culture to the less talked about racism and sexism.

Unfortunately, the books slowly digressed away from exploring the punk scene, and maybe my interest did as well. That is not to disregard books Two or Three, my interest was the scene and I was less interested in following the character Vernon Subutex. The first novel focused on the punk scene, whereas book two focused on this one character and a small group of people around him, a group that have banded together at a bar in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. While the plot of Vernon Subutex 2 focuses more on what happened to the lost tapes of Alex Bleach, I was more interested in themes than plot, so this became a book about class struggle.

This group of people hanging in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont turned into a cult, which leads to the third novel of this trilogy, where Vernon Subutex has become a spiritual leader to the group. The final book in the series, for me is the weakest, but it was clear Virginie Despentes knew what she was doing and where she wanted to take this journey. There was a strong focus on social struggles that plays out here, focusing more on homelessness and the way these people banded together. The cast of characters slowly shrinks with each book, but I really like how Despentes brings in new characters and then they disappear after a short period of time. This might frustrate many, but I found it natural; sometimes you meet someone, and they are only in your life for a small period of time, they might make an impact but then they are gone.

Vernon Subutex 3 was more political, with the 2015 Charles Hebdo shootings playing a part of the plot. The satirical papers controversial depictions of Muhammad are believed to be the cause of that attack. However, it was Michel Houellebecq that was on the cover of the magazine when this attack happened. I bring this up because I find Virginie Despentes and Houellebecq have similar styles. Both are satirical French authors that make me question myself and their writing style. They leave me with an unease while reading them and I spend time contemplating their satirical nature. I even find myself wondering if they are actually satirical or just overdoing the transgressive. This is not easy reading and knowledge of the punk scene and modern French history became vital aspects of my appreciation of Vernon Subutex.

When I think about the writing of Virginie Despentes, I have a similar feeling as when I think about Michel Houellebecq, I am unsure how I feel about them as authors. I have read five Despentes novels and while I enjoyed the Vernon Subutex trilogy, I find it hard to fully appreciate her works. Her writing is a combination of the thriller genre, but it tends to be overly transgressive. I am not trying to be negative, just not the style of literature I tend to enjoy. I am curious to know more about Despentes’ life and might read her feminist manifesto King Kong Theory, which like the Vernon Subutex trilogy has been translated by the legendary Frank Wynne.

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota Masłowska

Posted August 1, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Honey, I Killed The Cats by Dorota MasłowskaTitle: Honey, I Killed The Cats (Goodreads)
Author: Dorota Masłowska
Translator: Benjamin Paloff
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2019
Pages: 176
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Polish writer Dorota Masłowska has had a stellar literary career so far, publishing her first novel (Snow White and Russian Red) at just 19. She has won the NIKE Literary Award (a prestigious Polish award) in 2006 for her second novel, which has yet to be translated into English. Out of her six books, half have been translated into English, the latest being Honey, I Killed the Cats which was translated by Benjamin Paloff. In this novel Dorota Masłowska tells the tale of two independent woman as they try to navigate their lives and friendship in our modern world.

Before talking about the novel, I want to quickly talk about satire, mainly because I am sick of seeing confusion around this literary device. There are two main types of satirical writing, Horatian is playful, while Juvenal is scolding. Satire is used to criticise social issues; it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with humour. The reason I wanted to talk about these differences is because I think Honey, I Killed the Cats does a wonderful job in incorporating the Horatian and Juvenal satire into the novel. On one hand we have a playful, humorous look at mass-media and consumerism, then there is a harsh exploration into the dangers of corporate greed, diet culture and fitness fads.

Another reason why I wanted to talk about the different satirical styles was because I have an example of each that I think seem to share some similarities to Honey, I Killed the Cats. For Horatian satire, I had a similar vibe to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in the sense that it shared a very similar style of dark humour. Then the style of Juvenal satire similar to this novel, I think would be American Psycho, in the way it attempted to explore the destructive nature of modern trends, but it used advertising jingles in a similar way Bret Easton Ellis did with fashion descriptions.

On the back of the book is a quote that says this books a cross between Virginie Despentes and Blade Runner. While this is an apt description, especially since Blade Runner is set in 2019, the book that I am reminded of is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. There is a similarity here that is both playful and bitter towards modern consumerism that I find fitting. Needless to say, I appreciate a novel that knows how to both have fun and deal with some real issues.

I read this novel soon after finishing Ducks, Newburyport so I think I might have gone for some deeper interpretation. The plot became less important and even irrelevant to my reading experience. I had a great time with Honey, I Killed the Cats and am curious to explore more from Dorota Masłowska. I found it strange going from a book like Ducks, Newburyport to something like this novel but thankfully there was plenty to explore. Despite the fact that this review says nothing about the plot of this book, I hope I have said enough to interest others.

Why I Think Liar is Tone Deaf to Today’s Environment

Posted September 14, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

Nofar was an ordinary teenager but one statement has flung her life into the spotlight. Taking her from a girl that felt invisible in the world to the focus of the media. The only problem was, she lied; what she said was just a slip of the tongue. Liar is a novel by psychologist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen that explores the fallout of lies in a contemporary world.

I wanted to write this review to vent about this book and turned to writing to try and understand my own feelings. Just as a warning, I need to spoil the lie in order to talk about the novel as a whole, so if you do not want spoilers, this is your warning. Nofar said she was raped by famous singer, Avishai Milner. Liar wants to explore the ripple effects of a false accusation. Which sounds like an interesting topic to explore, until you stop to think about it.

I feel like tackling this topic is a little tone deaf, particularly in a time where the #MeToo movement is still a big issue. Not only that, the fact that women struggle to be believed when it comes to sexual assault. When I think about the statistics, this novel makes me angry. Look at the amount of rape cases that end in a conviction verse the amount reported, and then there is the fact that three out of four victims don’t report their attack. Finally, but not really as important, if this novel was written by the man, can you imagine the outrage?

I think the topic is interesting and I can imagine a false accusation would destroy someone’s reputation completely but so much needs to change in the justice system first. Putting aside these thoughts, and judging the book as a novel, I cannot say that I enjoyed the style, there were too many unnecessary similes to be found. One cringe worthy example is; “Nofar took the key that was hanging on a hook like a suicide”. I am not a fan of this style of writing, I much prefer a minimalistic approach, keeping the sentences sharp and to the point.

Please remember this is my opinion, written in the heat of the moment, right after finishing the novel. I wanted to get my thoughts down, because I worried that I might have been overreacting and reviews are the best way for me to explore my feelings towards literature. I did finish Liar because I was curious about the direction the novel took. If the novel sounded interesting to begin with, please try it, I am curious to see what others think.

A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig

Posted May 28, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo MaurensigTitle: A Devil Comes to Town (Goodreads)
Author: Paolo Maurensig
Translator: Anne Milano Appel
Published: World Editions, May 19, 2019
Pages: 120
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the small village of Dichtersruhe, situated by the Swiss mountains, there is a strong sense of literary kinship. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once visited the village. It feels like everyone wants to be a writer; everyone has a manuscript sitting in a drawer somewhere. One night a mysterious person comes to town, a hotshot working in publishing. In a town full of narcissistic writers, the devil has come to exploit their unsatisfied authorial desires.

Paolo Maurensig has delivered a dark comical Faustian tale in A Devil Comes to Town. What drew me to this novel was the premise and I went in with such a high expectation, I worried that it could not live up to what I expected. This novel screams ‘my type of book’, with its dark humour, literary references and a little theology. Thanks to the work of Anne Milano Appel translating this Italian novel, I was able to experience A Devil Comes to Town.

“Literature is the greatest of the arts,” the priest continued, “but it is also a dangerous endeavor.”
“In what sense, dangerous?”
“Each time we pick up a pen we are preparing to perform a ritual for which two candles should always be lit: one white and one black. Unlike painting and sculpture, which remain anchored to a material subject, and to music, which in contrast transcends matter altogether, literature can dominate both spheres: the concrete and the abstract, the terrestrial and the otherworldly. Moreover, it propagates and multiplies with infinite variations in readers’ minds. Without knowing it, the writer can become a formidable egregore.”

While the premise of the novel is what drew me in, what really stuck to me was the imagery. Outside the village of Dichtersruhe, foxes infected with rabies run rampant on the farmlands. The fog set in and created a dark creepy atmosphere. While this worked really well, it was a little on the nose when reading about foxes in the henhouses and then finding out the devil’s name was Bernard Fox. I never like when a novel explains its metaphors and thankfully it only did this in passing. However, once was all that was needed, it was such an obvious metaphor, that did not need any explanation.

While there is a lot of references to Goethe in the novel, it is obviously inspired by Faust as well. I felt like there was a nod to The Master and Margarita within the pages as well. Most notably was the use of a manuscript inside the novel. This is a great framing device for the plot but in my mind, it was more of a way to include Bulgakov as a literary influence.

A Devil Comes to Town was a joy to read, and it seemed to come at the right time. I had been reading the Man Booker International longlist and was looking forward to picking my own reading. While there was some imagery and literary references to enjoy, it felt like a palette cleanser in comparisons to some of the heavier books I had just read. Not that there is anything wrong with that, the dark humour was exactly what I needed at this point of time, and that made A Devil Comes to Town worth reading.

Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue

Posted April 26, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Love in the New Millennium by Can XueTitle: Love in the New Millennium (Goodreads)
Author: Can Xue
Translator: Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
Published: Yale University Press, November 20, 2018
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

There is something about Love in the New Millennium that I was not able to connect with.  Out of the entire Man Booker International longlisted books for 2019, this is the one that I struggled the most with. It was not because of the unlikeable characters or toxic relationships, there was just something that did not work. I spent a lot of time wondering if I felt disconnected from the cultural aspects of this novel, but I have come to the conclusion that me and Can Xue do not agree, or at least with this book.

The premise of this book is basically love stories of the new millennium. It is a collection of interconnected stories that center around a few different characters. Love in the New Millennium is meant to be an exploration into modern day romance, dating and relationships, however there is nothing inherently modern about this novel. Has the author adopted same for a magical realism where modern people are living in a world void of technology? I do not remember a single mention of the internet or cell phones in the entire book. I know this a Chinese novel, so culturally things are different, but I find it hard to believe that technology does not play a part in their lives. Can Xue is 66 years old, so it felt like she did not truly understand how young people live.

“People like us, more dead than alive, always indecisive.”

Having said that, this book was packaged as a dark comical look at a group of women living in a world of constant surveillance. I went into this thinking maybe this will be an exploration into women living in a world of social media. An Orwellian look at dating in the computer age. However, this book feels more like Middlemarch in a sense that it is not the surveillance cameras that people have to worry about, it is the gossip from other people.

The main problem with Love in the New Millennium for me what probably the fact that I built this book up differently in my head. Generally I prefer not to know too much about the books I plan to read, but since this was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, as well as the BTBA, I felt like I needed to know more about this book in order to join in on the conversations before actually reading it. I was hoping for a satirical look into dating in the new millennium, as well as some insights into modern day China, but this novel delivered none of that.

“Before entering a dream, she thought, a little enviously, they must be so happy. In her dream, she heard the couple outside referring to her as “the orphan.” When she heard these two syllables, or—phan, her tears rolled down in waves, soaking the pillow. Her dreamscape was passionate, with two silvery forms always floating around her. She saw milkvetch all around, honeybees everywhere, to her right the houses of the disappearing village, and the maple leaves burning like fire.”

Having said all that, there is this weird dream-like, almost surreal quality to the novel that played a small factor in not abandoning this book completely. My main reason for sticking to the book was because it was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. The writing was never really bad, Annelise Finegan Wasmoen did a great job of translating this into English. For me, my main verdict came down to the subject matter and my disappointment in not exploring these very important issues. There are so many different socio-political, philosophical and psychological avenues that were left unexplored.

When Can Xue is blurbed as the “most important novelist working in China today” and is also known as an avant-garde writer, I expected something more from Love in the New Millennium. She is also a literary critic who has written about Dante, Jorge Luis Borges, and Franz Kafka, so you cannot judge me for expecting so much more. Love in the New Millennium left me wanting a very different book, and I think that might have been what disappointed me the most about this novel. I have no idea why it made the longlist for both the Man Booker International Prize and the Best Translated Book Award, but clearly others see something in this book that I could not see.

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

Posted April 12, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yongTitle: At Dusk (Goodreads)
Author: Hwang Sok-yong
Translator: Sora Kim-Russell
Published: Scribe, 2018
Pages: 192
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

On the outside, Park Minwoo was the poster boy for success. Born into poverty, his parents owned a small fishcake store. He worked hard and now he is the director of one of Korea’s biggest architectural firms. However, Park thinks maybe he have missed the point of life. He has followed the ideal path to become wealthy but at the cost of his childhood love Cha Soona.

At Dusk is a quiet exploration into the life of a modern Korean businessman and his success, but it also reflects on the modernisation of Seoul. It is an obvious allegory; while Park doubts his success is the true meaning of a well lived life, the author begins to question the modernisation of Korea. The cost of progress really is the driving force behind the novella. As a Westerner, I feel like we are led to believe that all progress is good. The US goes to war with many countries because their values are different. We are forcing westernisation onto the rest of the world, and we are led to believe this is for the good of the country.  However, it is books like At Dusk that often help me explore a different argument.

Park Minwoo’s family lived a simple life running a small business, while Cha Soona’s parents were noodle makers. Modernisation means the end of these small businesses. Mass production and making money is the only thing of value. Noodle houses quickly become franchised coffee houses. The Korean culture is dying, leaving only Taekwondo and K-Pop behind.

This was a simple little novel, just a quiet yet urgent meditation on the effects progress has on its people and their culture. I feel the author could have done more but I have heard that Park Minwoo appears in other Hwang Sok-yong books. While it is longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, I cannot see it making the shortlist. This feels more like a quick read the judges put into the list to get people to think more about the topic of westernisation and progress, what it means to the people, the country and also their culture.