It’s October already, so here’s a round up of my September reads! As I’ve been doing my Autumn is for Asia challenge, everything I’ve read this month has been set in Asia and written by an Asian author. This month’s reads happened to be Japanese and South Korean books. I’m really enjoying exploring new cultures and stories through this challenge and would love to hear about any books that introduced you to new cultures or worlds! Leave me a comment with a recommendation 🙂
So what did I actually read? The majority of this month’s reads were South Korean books, but last month, it was mainly Japanese. I’ve also just started one set in China, which I’ll write about next month! (You can check my Goodreads profile if you’d like to see last month’s reads too!)
South Korean books
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang
When it comes to comparisons, this one is dubbed the Charlotte’s Web of South Korean books, and I can see why. It’s got that same power to suck you into the animals’ stories and get you emotionally invested – and exhausted! It’s quite a feat really, making a human reader relate to a hen, but Sun-Mi Hwang has somehow managed it.
The story follows Sprout, an egg-laying hen who can no longer lay eggs of her own. Too scrawny to eat, she’s no longer any good to the farmer and is cast out to die. However, Sprout is determined to hatch an egg and have a baby of her own before she dies. Along the way, she meets unlikely allies, experiences prejudice, fights for survival, and learns the power of love and sacrifice. It’s a short but sweet story about unconvential families of all shapes and sizes, with a bittersweet takeaway that makes you feel both empowered and a bit broken!
I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim
I have mixed feelings about this one. The narrator is a Dexter-like character who instead of killing those he thinks deserve death, he haunts lonely, struggling, and emotionally scarred people and suggests solace in suicide. On the surface, I thought this book would have the intriguing elements Dexter presents – is it right, is it wrong? Who deserves death? Shouldn’t we be the masters of our own end? However, I felt that all the book’s different elements, although vivid (sometimes a little too vivid!), weren’t quite embroidered together well enough to present one, single, impactful story.
Young-Ha Kim’s style, like a lot of South Korean books, is described as “dream-like and cinematic”, and I can definitely see why, though it was a little too dreamy for my liking. For me, I was left feeling a little unsatisfied at the end, as there are so many threads that don’t quite get woven firmly into the final tapestry.
It kind of reminded me of Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto in a strange way. On my journey through Asian literature, I’ve noticed a lot of it, in particular Japanese and South Korean books, have a focus on death, its impact on others, and a strange dream-like prose that to me, feels almost like watching a movie in slow motion. It’s hard to explain – it’s not a bad thing or a suggestion that the books feel slow, it’s just that the story feels like it’s caught in a bubble while the rest of the world in the book happens around it. It’s very different to Western literature.
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
This little gem is the only one on my list that’s not a South Korean book! This one is instead set in Japan, and written by a Japanese author. I read The Travelling Cat Chronicles last month and really enjoyed it, so when I spotted a book with a very similar cover by a Japanese author, on the buy one get one half price stand, I had to snap it up!
Unlike The Travelling Cat Chronicles, this book is not told from the point of view of the cat, though cats are quite heavily featured throughout, as you may guess! The premise is that our protagonist has a week left to live, and the Devil appears to him, promising one extra day of life in exchange for making something disappear from the world. Sounds easy enough, but it is a deal with the Devil after all – you can’t just get rid of, say, dirt on shoes, or racism, or something like that. The Devil dictates and our protagonist is left wondering that makes life worth living, the value of relationships, hobbies, and pets, and ultimately, questioning what makes one life more important than another. It’s poignant, and left me sitting looking a bit broken on the train after I finished it!
There seems to be a theme this month – books that make me question my own existence and get a bit sad! In a good way though, if that makes any sense!
What’s a book that changed the way you thought about things? Leave me a comment and let me know!
P.S. Want to get involved in Autumn is for Asia? Check out the link in the first paragraph for info via Instagram stories, or check the last paragraph of my last post if you’d prefer!