In an effort to spice up my reading for 2020, I decided to “read globally, read locally.” I want to read the work of authors from other countries but add a few books from local (and I mean Maryland writers) authors to the mix.
My January choices have made me smile with delight, laugh out loud (and on a plane, no less) and sob my heart out. Two books did that.
Here are the three I’ve read in January.
THE STORYTELLER OF DAMASCUS, by Rafik Schami, SYRIA
In one of the many book blogs I read, someone recommended Rafik Schami. So I found this book at my local library and put it on hold. Much to my surprise, it’s a children’s book. A wonderful children’s book!
An old man carries a storytelling machine, a wonder chest, through the streets of Damascus and invites children to come and peek inside to see as the story about Sami the shepherd boy unfolds in his pictures. Time goes by and the machine gets old and scraps of magazine fix holes in the drawings. The story changes and becomes modern and remains as magical as ever.
Schami, a Syrian now living in Germany, is an award-winning novelist of books for adults. I will be looking for another, more age-appropriate book of his to read—but what a great book with which to start the year.
A MAN CALLED OVE, by Frederik Backman, SWEDEN
A librarian suggested this one. I’ll be her friend forever.
Ove was planning to kill himself. His wife had died, his employers had told him it was time to retire and Ove decided couldn’t live anymore. She was “color. All the color he had.”
An unlikely premise for one of the funniest, most endearing books I have ever read. He’s judgmental, calls people names, pinches kronor every chance he gets. But he loves Sofia and when I got a peek into their relationship, usually on his regular visits to her grave, it often tore my heart out.
Then there are his neighbors. Always interrupting as he gets ready to do away with himself. Every time they knock at his door he helps them out, not that he likes them very much. He even opens his home—grudgingly—to the Cat Annoyance.
Backman manages to make his readers love this old grump in a tone full of love and humor. This is the kind of book we need right now, And every day.
PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee, KOREA
I don’t remember the last time I ran across a hero quite like Sunja. She’s humble, hard-working, sweet and innocent and has a love so powerful I hoped it would help her overcome the incredible number of hardships she would face. This Korean woman suffers through Japanese occupation of her country, then discrimination in Japan, world war and the Korean War that forbids her return to her homeland. Although world events certainly affect her, her world is her family. We meet her as the daughter of Hoonie and Yangjin, who run a boarding house, and watch as she becomes a wife and mother, an entrepreneur and a grandmother.
The story is filled with fascinating people from Koh Hansu, the man who loves her but can’t marry her, her sons, her loving, loyal husband and devoted sister-in-law. In fact, the book covers four generations of her family.
I love historical fiction and this one thrilled me from the first page. I got a look into the history between Japan and Korea, learned about a game of chance called Pachinko and met characters who ripped my heart out. But in a good way.
The author, Min Jin Lee, who was born in South Korea, wrote this book while living in Japan. She now lives in New York.