Happy Bank Holiday (at least to my British readers)!
Plenty of annual leave this month meant that I finally got back to my ‘normal’ reading rhythm in August, and I feel so much more inspired for it. I’m still struggling to really read for escapism; somewhat tellingly, I read three non-fictions and really enjoyed them all. I then gobbled up a YA fiction in a weekend, and am now ploughing my way through a further two novels. I suppose with life slowly picking back up again, my mind is able to focus a little on reading and on other menial tasks that take me places.
In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
I’ve had Park’s memoir on my TBR list for years and years. My friend Sophia and I have a huge curiosity and fascination with North Korea, and this had firmly been on our reading lists for ages. As such, it comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gained a lot from it too. In Order to Live chronicles Park’s early years growing up in a small village in North Korea. She’s open and real and honest about the minute observations from her world then, sharing when she began realising the North Korean dream was all a facade, documenting the desperate times and hardships her family faced.
The memoir takes you on her journey to escape the regime, through China and eventually to Seoul. Whilst it is a survivor tale, Park’s courage, resilience, unwavering hope and kindness ring true from every page. At several times, the book felt really hard to read. But if it was hard for me to read, imagine the author going through it. One I really enjoyed and learned from, and that I’ll always recommend to a friend.
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Subconsciously, I picked up Minor Feelings right afterwards. This book has garnered acclaim and attention in the Asian-American bookish community, and for good reason. It’s a modern-day reckoning of race and shares author Cathy Park Hong’s experiences in a plain, no-frills way. What I enjoyed the most about this book is that it was both raw and informative. Hong recounts her upbringing in a traditional Korean household, albeit in America. She candidly discusses how she ‘learned’ her place in white America, but ultimately how she learned to reshape her own future and take back the reins. There are some tougher parts to read, and a lot of insights into her life as an Asian artist. Hong masterfully tackles big topics by opening up about her own experiences, many of which I related hard to. Whether you’re East Asian or not, this non-fiction is absolutely one to pick up, devour and learn from.
Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd
The wonderful Ellis sent me this book in a little book swap back in March, but with everything only just kicking off with the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t stomach the thought of reading it. Unnatural Causes is a truly fascinating, morbid read. Written by Dr Richard Shepherd, a forensic pathologist who has completed tens of thousands of autopsies, this memoir documents some of the most famous cases he’s worked on. Not only was it interesting to learn about an industry I’ve never known much about, it was set against such an incredibly human backdrop that it was hard to put down. Shepherd’s post-career trauma, the cases themselves, the precision of the work…
I’ve since noticed a lot of people saying that they found his writing clinical. I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. Of course Dr Shepherd is a pathologist first and author second, but his way with words felt very much readable and captivating, telling a story beyond his work. One for the fellow true crime fan and strong stomach-ed.
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wei Chim
I first added this title to my TBR list and 2020 Book Pledge because the book name was so cute! Under the skin of an adorable book title and even sweeter cover lies an important plot that is beautifully, adeptly told.
Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.
But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.
A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.
I absolutely LOVED this book, and it’s sparked a thirst in me to read more YA lit because I’ve certainly neglected the genre over the years. Studying a writing degree and going into the industry left me feeling as though I needed to ‘read up’, but actually, we could all be reading more YA lit as those themes are what define and teaches the younger generations. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is what I wish I’d read when I was 15. Anna is the eldest daughter, busied with the tasks of being the eldest in a Chinese family — looking after her siblings and helping at the restaurant. Her mother appears to be suffering with her mental health, and life is going at 100mph.
Through a classic boy-meets-girl plot line and placing Anna firmly in a part-time job at her parents, Chiu deftly crafts a story for Chinese diaspora everywhere. I felt deeply those moments of shame when classmates recognised me from the takeaway, or the spotlight-embarrassment of being singled out for a parent’s behaviour. On top of that, this cosy novel delves easily, unabashedly into a frank discussion of mental illness and how culture mingles with it. Rather than dance around the edges, Chiu ploughs into the darkest parts and throws wide open the issue of mental health in the Chinese community. Issues of not feeling enough in a majority white country, feeling like a burden to English-speaking members of family, language barriers…
I’m really impressed by this novel, and have made it my mission to read more of Chiu’s work.
What did you read this month? What were the highlights?