May 15, 2016
Daughters Of The Dragon by William Andrews
I knew going into this what Comfort Women were, and therefore, that it was going to be traumatic, but I forged on in the name of book club and being able to handle brutal stories again. Eeeeenhh! Wrong. While I didn’t know how graphic it would be, why did I think I would EVER want to handle a book about sex slavery?
Daughters Of The Dragon is a well-written, fascinating story based on the historical truth of what Korean “comfort women” experienced at the hands of Japanese military, and part of me feels like it would be dishonoring those women if I hadn’t read it just because I’m not comfortable with their trauma. Then again, I now have images in my head that I will never be able to “un-see,” and have to admit if I had it to do over again, I’d pass on reading it and live with my silent acknowledgement and heartfelt sorrow for the inexcusable, inhumane, utter horror of what they went through, and for those who survived, lived with. As it was, I read the whole thing in one night because I wasn’t going to subject myself to it for any longer than that.
I think this book was a noble effort by the author to be a voice for comfort women, and honestly, he did an amazing job of writing from a brutalized woman’s perspective. Man or woman, that had to be incredibly difficult. I looked him up after reading the book and found that he has been fascinated by Korea since adopting his daughter from there many years ago, and indeed, feels this part of history—and its revisionism by the Japanese—should be known. I was blown away by the afterward note about surviving comfort women, referred to as “grandmothers” as a sign of honor and respect, who march every single Wednesday on the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea.
I do recommend this book to anyone still thinking about reading it. For anyone else who would like to honor these women survivors without reading it, I encourage you to visit the author’s website to read the afterward and find additional information and resources. Surprisingly, there is no “Donate” button on the author’s website, but I donated here, as infinitesimal a gesture it may be.
One last thing I’ll note is that when Jae-hee and her sister were forced to go “work in a boot factory,” their loving mother, who we are left to assume knew what that really meant, became catatonic as she bid them farewell, and subsequently froze to death beneath a tree. As judgmental as I feel saying this, even regarding a fictional character, I honestly would have taken my daughters and run, even if it meant being shot as we did so (which obviously would have ended the novel before it began).
A worthy, but tough, tough read.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
When half of my book club understandably bailed on Daughters Of The Dragon, I suggested this as a second book. It was just the ticket- delightful!
A.J. Fikry is a quirky, widowed owner of a bookshop on the fictional New England Alice Island whose life takes a twist when a baby, Maya, is left at the bookshop by her mother, and he meets Amelia, a publishing sales rep. Fikry essentially lives his life through a lens of books, and the descriptions of various books and publishing practices are fun to read. I loved the characters, including Fikry himself (who reminds me a bit of Don from The Rosie Project), eccentric and spunky Amelia, and Chief Lambiase, a police officer who befriends Fikry and starts a police book club at the store.
The book is well written, and the author, in my opinion, is fabulous with dialogue. I did feel though, that a lot of the story and characters could have been much more developed, and a lot of it was way too neatly tied up to be believable. For example, Whiz-bam, baby is adopted? No such thing, and there needed to be way, way more reason than was offered for her mother to give up a baby she loved in the first place. A largely unlikable character is too easily killed in an accident—a mere two pages after someone wishes it—to make way for two likable characters to find love with each other. Horrible turns of fate and certain diagnoses are made to feel rather acceptable. These are things I wouldn’t feel able to “get away with” as an author. Still, screw it, I enjoyed it. It was sweet and fun, and compared to some of the darker books I’ve been reading lately, it was damn near like sunshine.
As a fertility survivor and advocate, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are two related fertility themes in this book—the aforementioned adoption of a “found” baby (a fantasy I readily admit to harboring during my struggle), and the infertility of Ismay, Fikry’s sister-in-law. While the handling of the adoption flails in the face of every person who has been asked, “Why don’t you just adopt?,” Ismay’s struggle offers a fair, if minuscule, glimpse into the desperate agony of infertility and reproductive trauma. Indeed, this book was initially recommended by a fertility warrior friend while she was still trying to conceive, and as such, was a brave reading choice.
This Is How by Augusten Burroughs
Hm. Not sure what I want to say about this one. I love Augusten. (See? We’re on a first name basis, ha ha). And I have to admit that there are some freaking gems scattered about this book:
“But here’s the thing: there are some things in life from which you do not heal…Heal is a television word.”
“Deep sorrow and deep joy can exist within you, side by side.”
And my favorite: “…to be more confident you need to give a whole lot less of a shit about what other people think of you.”
But mostly, I’m just going to say I consider this Augusten’s Mulligan, and look forward to reading his latest book, Lust and Wonder: A Memoir.
Ooh, two Holds to pick up at the library tomorrow! Happy Dance!