Hi, friends! I don’t know about you but I don’t read quite as much when I have a TV show I am watching. Recently, we have been watching The Sopranos (on HBO) most evenings, but somehow I managed to read six books in a short month! I read some GREAT books in February and am excited to share my thoughts with you.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr – 3.75 stars
This book was on my TBR list for a long time! Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, lives her father, who is a locksmith at Paris’s Museum of Natural History–that is, until Germany invades and they move to Saint-Malo where her great-uncle Etienne lives. Werner is an orphan along with his sister Jutta; he becomes fascinated with radios at a young age and that eventually gives him an opportunity to attend a Nazi boarding school. Reinhold von Rumpel is a gemologist and sergeant major in Nazi Germany who spends year seeking the Sea of Flames diamond. All The Light We Cannot See follows Marie-Laure, Werner, and von Rumpel throughout WWII, during which their paths all cross. While reading this book, I thought about the duality and absurdity of war and about how both sides lose. Though I enjoyed reading it, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.
P.S. I recently watched Jojo Rabbit and I kept picturing Werner’s friend at the boarding school as Frederick from the movie, which made my heart sad.
DISABILITY VISIBILITY edited by Alice Wong – 5 stars
I learned about Disability Visibility when the editor of this anthology and disability rights activist Alice Wong came on the Fall Books 2020 episode of Call Your Girlfriend Podcast last year. Disability Visibility is a collection of essays by contemporary disabled writers, that range from blog posts to eulogies. I was blown away about the complex and varying disabled experiences represented in this book—disabled people in the prison system, disabled BIPOC, motherhood as a disabled person, people with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities, intersectionality of disability and (a)sexuality, and more. It was eye opening to read about different opinions about abortion within disability community. While reading this book, I realized my shortcoming in not including disabled people in conversations about diversity and equality. As someone who considers herself to be inclusive, I need to do better and will be working on it going forward. This book was my first 5-star read of 2021, and I recommend it to literally everyone.
AMERICAN SPY by Laura Wilkinson – 4 stars
Summary: We meet Marie Mitchell in the present when someone breaks into her home where she lives with her two kids. Fearing for their safety, Marie takes her family to Martinique where her mother lives. While there, she writes a letter to her sons to explain everything–beginning with her childhood when she looked up to her sister Helene, who inspired her to join the FBI, to eventually finding herself in Africa to undermine Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkina Faso, also known as “Africa’s Che Guevara.”
This was so different from other spy novels I have read for a couple of different reasons. First, the protagonist of American Spy is a young Black woman, rather than the white women you typically see in spy novels. Marie is frustrated—as a woman and as a Black person, she is undervalued in a traditionally white male organization despite her talent and work ethic. Her desire to prove herself is the reason why she accepts the assignment to help take down Thomas when recruited by the CIA despite the fact that she agrees with and respect Thomas as a leader.
In American Spy, family is not only mentioned but is central to the storyline. Her sister Helene is the motive for Marie to join the FBI out of college as her children are to tell her story. Her father (aka Pop), a retired police offer, and Mr. Ali, Pop’s father who has worked for the FBI for a long time, portray how limited success Black men in their generation could achieve (i.e. Mr. Ali forever stuck in his corner office) and how that often involved working for the white men against their own communities. I am not a history buff so I didn’t know that Thomas Sankara was a real historical figure until after I had finished the book. The plot of American Spy surrounding Burkina Faso’s political history and coup d’état that kills Sankara are all true, and it was fascinating how Wilkinson incorporated Marie Mitchell’s character into actual historical events.
THREE WOMEN by Lisa Taddeo – 4 stars
The fact that this book is nonfiction is wild, but I guess fiction is only as wild as real life. In Three Women, Lisa Taddeo tells the stories of three women she has interviewed for over eight years. We meet Maggie who had a relationship with her high school teacher when she was seventeen but is not believed when she finally reports it to the police; Lisa, a stay-at-home mother longing for love and affection, who tries to find it with her high school boyfriend; and Sloane, a restaurant owner happily married to her husband who likes to watch her have sex with men he picks out for her. The way Taddeo writes the book, you really get to meet each woman and hear their voice and understand where they come from. I enjoyed reading about these three women being really raw and vulnerable. I will say that the claim this book is about women’s sexual desires does not adequately or accurately describe the book. I also think some kind of commentary or analysis or perspective from Lisa Taddeo would have made added a lot to this book.
82 년생 김지영 // KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – 5 stars
Kim Jiyoung is a typical Korean woman. The book begins in the present where Jiyoung is a stay-at-home-mother. Her husband seeks psychiatrist’s help as Jiyoung begins to speak as if she is not herself, but her mother or her friend from college who has passed away. Then, you follow Jiyoung’s life from the psychiatrist’s report, detailing her childhood and school days and how and why she quit her dream to job to stay at home to take care of her daughter. Beginning at a very young age, Jiyoung experiences sexism and misogyny from her own grandmother, her teachers, her coworker, and even other women. Though I am 10 years younger than Kim Jiyoung, I could relate to her as my experience hasn’t been to different from hers as Jiyoung’s experience wasn’t all that different from her mother’s.
As I read the book, I kept thinking about how Jiyoung’s husband is really one of the most understanding men but he still doesn’t understand. To know that most women aren’t even quite that lucky made me sad, as did the ending of the book. If you are looking to better understand Korean society and how sexism and misogyny manifest in a world that is different from yours, I definitely recommend it. The author incorporates statistics and articles throughout the book for more reading if you are interested.
P.S. I read this book in Korean (thanks to my sister Jiyoung who let me borrow her copy). It was my first time reading in Korean in literal years, and I had missed it! We grew up with a ton of books around the house, but I haven’t read a lot of Korean books as an adult so I want to make more efforts to do so.
HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi – 5 stars
Oh wow, this book was worth the hype! A multigenerational saga, Homegoing tells the story of Effia and Esi, two-half sisters born into different villages in Ghana, and their descendants. As Effia marries a British governor and Esi is captured and sold as a slave, the two sides of the family land on the opposite sides of slave trade and in different continents. Following Esi’s offsprings, we see slavery and systemic racism in the Americas while Effia’s offspring portrays the conflicts between the Fante and Asante nations, and how the slave trade affects Ghana. Every chapter tells the story of a new generation on each side of the family, and Gyasi gives each family member a distinct voice with their own narrative and personality instead of simply using them as a vessel to tell a continuous story. The amount of history enraptured in this book is phenomenal. I will say that there was a bit of a lull in the middle of the book for me, but it picked up again by the end. Absolutely fantastic (and not just for a debut novel), and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it.
P.S. I read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi last year and reviewed here.