Challenging my world views
I love reading books that are set in locations that I've never visited (and probably will never visit) whether the books are fiction or non fiction and regardless as to if they are in translation or not. Just lately two books have really challenged what I thought I knew about two countries.
The first was a non fiction book, called Two Trees Make a Forest.
This is a book that ticked many of my personal interests: travel, nature writing and family history. It was also about Taiwan, a country that I had always thought was a relatively liberal place and a definite alternative to China. I was very surprised to discover that it was subject to martial law for so long, and as repressive as mainland China in its way, just not a communist country.
I think that some of my preconceptions come about because in the time that I've been news/politically aware it has moved away from a one party, repressive system and become more liberal - unconsciously I had thought that this was always the case. Always good to learn more and this was a fascinating book about reconnecting with your roots.
The second book that really opened my eyes recently also comes from the far east, as it is set in South Korea, Kim Jeyung, Born 1982 (by Chi Nam-Joo, trans. Jamie Chang)
This is a book that is all about the pressures that South Koreans around my age/my sister's age face in society today, and especially how women are treated. It was truly horrifying and eye-opening, despite nothing truly horrific actually taking place. The publisher blurb gives a hint of the subject matter:
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.This doesn't quite warn you just what a punch this book packs, especially at the end. Although fiction all of the statistical claims, figures and news stories are given footnotes that allow you to see that this is real and not exaggerated for a novel.
Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.
Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.
Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
Again I had the idea that South Korea was a 'good guy' - that it was progressive and to be held up as a beacon for showing how a country can heal from a traumatic recent past.
A film has been made of the book, and it is a best seller in Korea. This translation will be published in February 2020 and I hope that it is as well received in English as it has been in Korean - it is an important read, and always good to remember that there is a lot of work to do world wide on equality.
With thanks to Norfolk Libraries & Net Galley for these two books.