Pachinko by Min Jin Lee ★★★★★
I heard a lot of great things about this book when it first came out two years ago, but I never got around to reading it until a friend recommended the book again to me recently. I had read Min Jin Lee’s other book, Free Food for Millionaires, which was quite good, but it was published in 2007, so I was curious to see how her writing had changed since then.
The story starts off with a family in Busan, Korea and the hardships they endure with the Japanese occupation during the war. The daughter of the family, Sunja, gets married and then moves to Osaka, Japan, hoping for a better life. When she gets there, she realizes it’s not as ideal as she dreamt, and she and her family deal with poverty, illness, discrimination, and racism.
This book was so good. It’s 489 pages and I finished it in two days because I was so immersed in it. Min Jin Lee does a wonderful job developing each character that they each had a distinct personality and you could understand why each character acted a certain way.
One of the characters really struggles with his identity as a Korean person living in Japan. He tries his best to assimilate into Japanese culture, starts hating his own Korean-ness, and even expresses a want to become Japanese at some point. He even experiences being tokenized. When reading about his thoughts and experiences, I couldn’t help but empathize as someone who once in the past wanted to be something other than Vietnamese and also hated my own culture. I feel like this struggle with identity is inevitable when you’re living in a place where the country makes it a point to always point out your differences.
This is definitely one of my favorite books, I would highly recommend it!
Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami ★★★☆☆
Ms Ice Sandwich is about a young boy and his obsession with a lady who sells sandwiches at the nearby grocery store. It’s written from his perspective, so it reads like the stream of consciousness of a young boy, with run-on sentences and sporadic thoughts.
I thought it was a sweet book, but I had a lot of trouble keeping my interest because I felt that while the writing was unique since it was from the perspective of a young boy, it was hard for me to follow along. It was a short, quick read, though!
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim ★★★☆☆
This debut novel from Hana Kim follows the story of a family during the Korean War. Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective and you really get to know what each character is thinking as the events unravel.
When I was first reading it, I was really interested in the story and rooting for the protagonist. Halfway through, I really found it hard to continue reading. The characters had all become unlikeable and it was hard for me to feel empathy for any of them. While I understand the characters’ point of view, especially with the time period they were in and the cultural restrictions, it was a really frustrating read. It was the kind of frustration where you want everyone to do better for themselves, but they just can’t, and so I felt helpless as a reader.
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski ★★★☆☆
I read Nagoski’s book on Burnout last month and this month, and at the time I had put this book on hold too after hearing a lot of great things about it. I finally was able to check this book out in the month of August.
This time around, Nagoski writes about women’s sexuality and all the different factors that come into play.
Growing up in a traditional Asian household, I feel a lot of shame when it comes to anything sexual. And then, sometimes I feel like there’s something wrong with me.
As it turns out, the mainstream has always approached women’s sexuality as a lite version of men’s sexuality. They have men’s standards set the default, so it’s common for women to feel broken because those standards aren’t made for us.
Nagoski goes into detail about mental, cultural, and physical factors that affect women’s sexuality. There are also worksheet pages for the reader to help understand why they feel certain ways when it comes to their sexuality.
After reading this book, I don’t feel so isolated and alone in thinking that there’s something wrong with me. I enjoyed reading this book, but I found some of the parts repetitive at times and some of it was kind of dense to follow. I’d still recommend it for women out there who are still trying to understand their sexuality.
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li ★★★☆☆
Number One Chinese Restaurant is about a family-owned Chinese restaurant in Rockville, Maryland. There’s a lot of family politics and drama, as you maybe can imagine when running a business with your family. There’s the older generation who wants to keep things the same because it works and then there’s the younger generation who wants to innovate and revolutionize the way things work.
I used to work in a family-owned Chinese restaurant a few years ago, and while there was definitely family drama there, this book takes it to the extreme.
Aside from my experience of working in the restaurant setting, I found it really hard to relate to the characters in this book. They were either all selfish or they were pushovers. I think because the book tried to cover every character’s background story and current situation, it was spread kind of thin.
This story was okay, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it.
Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang ★★★★☆
After reading so many novels and non-fiction books, it was refreshing to read a collection of short stories. The short stories are centered around the new generation of Chinese youth, from those living in poor conditions to those who are extremely wealthy, some of the stories take place in the United States while others take place in China.
If you’re not a fan of having no closure, this might no the best book for you. As with most short stories I’ve read, there’s no concrete ending, which lets the audience come up with their own ending.
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan ★★★★☆
This book follows two main characters from a small town in China. They are promised to each other in an arranged marriage by their parents, and after they get married, they move to the United States. Fast forward a few years, they end up moving back to China for the husband’s job.
The wife, Lina, goes from someone who had a job to a housewife living an extremely privileged lifestyle. The husband, Wei, has a very lucrative job in marketing, but he lives with regrets that he didn’t do more with his life seeing how he was a very promising student growing up.
I found this to be pretty interesting since it shows a different perspective of what it’s like to move from the United States to their home country and how that affects each character as well as their relationships.
Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter by Dan Ariely ★★★☆☆
This book really makes you think about how you spend your money.
For example, I almost never pay for iced tea on a daily basis (it’s about $6 in NYC depending where you go), but when I’m on vacation, I don’t even flinch paying that much for an iced tea. Why is that? According to this book, it seems like one of the reasons is that I already paid a lot of money to go on vacation (flights, hotel, rental car), that $6 compared to the hundreds I spent on everything else doesn’t seem like a lot.
I thought this was a pretty good read, but I found some parts to be a little repetitive.
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