A Dog’s Head

A Dog’s Head by Jean Dutourd follows a young man who is born with a head of a dog, a spaniel head to be exact, and body of a human male. The book starts off right at the moment of his birth, when his parents – a ‘normal’ human couple – discover this child’s head, and continues on through his childhood years, his time in school as a young boy and teenager, up into adult years and trying to find love, meaning, and come to terms with his identity. Like Wendy Doniger points out in the introduction, this book can be read in many different ways. One can argue that Dutourd presents us with an examination of human traits in the guise of animals – like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animal traits can be viewed as a mirror to humanities personalities, flaws, and challenges.

What struck me as the strongest theme and motive in this book is otherness, in all of its forms. For example Edmond (the main character) is part dog, part human – he is, so to speak, part of two ‘races’. It’s not difficult to see how this could be viewed as a story of bi-racial identities, the feeling of not quite fitting in with either group, not feeling like one has a ‘home’ or a place where one can be oneself without this complicated identity being up for discussion. Dogs shy away from Edmond, either they ignore him, take light of him, try to run from him, or simply dislike him. The humans around him too, make fun of him, laugh at him and talk about him behind his back – even the ones he trusts and values. His search for a place in society, to like-minded people who will welcome and accept him as he is, drives the story along.

Another way I found otherness as such a central part of this book is how the way people view Edmond is slowly having an effect on how he views himself. From the start his parents decide to ignore the fact that he has a dog’s head, and so he lives a rather normal life. Then comes the day when he is supposed to start school and suddenly his small world grows – is filled with other people’s perceptions, prejudices, judgement and values. His parents start to acknowledge his head from that point onwards to make him realize what sort of person he is – he is constantly being forced to acknowledge his head as an abnormality, by his parents, his friends, his lovers, his collegues, every person he comes across. At first he thinks nothing off it, later coming to detest this part of himself. There’s just so much of the process of othering that so many people I think could relate to in Edmond’s story. The fact that this can be taken as a sort of fable lends it all the more to so many different experiences.

But A Dog’s Head is not just the story of a person searching for a place to call home, or an identity fable. Another theme that for me really felt central was the way dog vs human was dealt with in this book, or rather human vs animal is perhaps an even clearer way to describe it. For such a long time it seems many humans have perceived themselves as the top of all living existence – as the elite, the best of the best, evolution’s highpoint. The way other animals, dogs for one, is viewed as a contrast and in comparison to human’s is something I find fascinating and also quite important. In this book there’s constantly commentary on the degrading nature of a dog, of a dog like a filthy creature, a creature driven my passion and lust and desires, uncontrollable and without moral or intelligence. The words against Edmond is often of that nature, speaking of his appetite or his status in comparison to the “complete” humans around him, as he is clearly lower in status no matter his class, his financial situation, his intelligence, etc. No matter where he is, no matter who he deals with, the fact of his dog’s head is never forgotten and is alone enough to lower him in status so that even the people who works for him view themselves as far superior to him. Human as leader and master of all other animals and nature is such an accepted concept, and I feel Dutourd is partly questioning this – in his mirroring of human values, how humanity contrasts itself with other beings to feel superior and different, to draw lines and not let anyone cross them.

There is so much in this book to think about, but even putting aside all of the more philosophical and analytical aspects – this is an entertaining and well-written book in its own right, filled with wit and bitterness but at turns funny, poignant, magical and tragic. It’s just so many things in a neat 150-page package. I only wish more of this author’s work was translated into English. Crossing my fingers for either more English translations or a time when I can read French fluently, either way – this is fantastic, definitely worth a read.

Our Endless Numbered Days

What a whirlwind of a novel Our Endless Numbered Days was for me. It took me some time getting into the book, as I was trying to navigate the 8 year old narrator Peggy, changing scenery from a house in London, through cities, villages and woods – until Peggy and her father reached die Hütte. The first third or half of the book reminded me a bit of Hansel and Gretel – only, in this version the father doesn’t leave his kids in the wood but drags his daughter out further and further away from civilizations, to live in a cabin in no mans land. There’s a darkness to this story right from the start, and her father’s looming anger and instability is always on the edge, shaping their existence on the way to die Hütte and the time they live there. Like Hansel and Gretel there is that feeling of darkness and something lurking that is unsettling, and the violent actions contrasted with the beautiful and the quiet, really captivated me.

At first I thought the narration that was supposed to follow an eight year olds mind was a bit too mature, to really feel like such a young child. There were little things that kept pulling me out of the story, as Peggy and her father made their way to die Hütte. I think this was perhaps necessary as a contrast too, to Peggy’s “after” state as she is narrating the story 9 years later and we slowly are filled in as to what has happened during that time period. But I will say the narration was one reason why it took me a while to be invested in the story. Although the writing has beautiful sections right from the start, it was really the scene of the snow storm that sold me completely and made me eager to read more. I somehow feel like Claire Fuller’s writing, or her voice, got stronger as the novel progressed.

As I said the thing that really works isn’t just the beauty in the writing or the actual beauty in setting, forests and animals and picturesque cabins but the ugly and the cold and the many details that show the hardship Peggy goes through and how all of it changes her slowly into Punzel, into a new person that is looking back on the life she lead up to 8 years old as a foggy memory, already dusty with forgetfulness. The hardness of the weather – in the way of wind, rain, snow, darkness, but also the shifting of the seasons, her and her father’s adapting to their new environment and how many mistakes they make until they become acclimated to this new life and new place.

It isn’t just the Hansel and Gretel thing that makes me think of this as a dark modern fairytale. There’s moments where it really feels like magic is part of this world; the great divide, or the weather acting like a person with moods and a mind of its own. Her father grows increasingly unstable and further away from the person that he was, tumbling back and forth between being in the present and being a wreck, wanting to die and having a new project to live for. His constant inner battle and the way they affect Punzel is just, so so enchanting and scary and captivating and just utterly chilling. I can’t at all describe how the darkness of this novel really creeps up on you, first gradually and then really landing on you in the last few pages.

And the end. To be completely honest, even reading the last couple of chapters I was starting to feel that there was no point in getting the “after” story any more than we had already got (by page 250 or so) but then the end was just perfect for this story and made me realize the reason for some earlier parts being included, it was absolutely necessary for the story Fuller wanted to tell. The end literally made me shiver. I’ve cried and laughed and felt so many different emotions while reading before, but this is the first time that a book made me shiver – I think that’s how surprising and unnerving the last bit of this novel was for me.

I just can’t get across all of my thoughts on this. In my head, as I look back on the story, I see everything in colour and I smell wood and snow and feel the cold air bite into my skin and I hear the water of the river thunder by and I feel the dread and the fear and the haze of the characters in this story, and I just can’t make it all come down in words. I can only say I’m now very excited to read Claire Fuller’s novel Swimming Home that’s coming out very soon, and hope to find more wonderful (and dark) stories told with even more precision.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series, and one I kept postponing to read because I didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to be over and done with this series. I’ve already watched the movie while it was still showing at the cinema, but haven’t watched it since so it’s been a few years and most of the story was fuzzy at best, as I read the first line in Deathly Hallows.

The Harry Potter books are all very well loved, held dear to all who grew up with the boy who lived, a boy meant for grand things – for adventure, for sacrifice, for a battle to the death. As the entire story arcs final round – it makes sense that this book would be grand in the actual plot, I mean – it’s the showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort – how can it possibly get more dramatic than that? And yet, this book lacked a certain sense of tightness that I felt the other books had. Even in the longest of the books in the series, Order of the Phoenix, which isn’t only long but painful to read because Umbridge is such a big part of it, I was never bored. I never felt that scenes were long winded, dragged out, or unnecessary for the story to unfold. But I did feel this at times with the Deathly Hollows. There were several parts that dragged on and on, like the time Harry spends with Hermoine and Ron in the woods – on the run – trying to destroy the horrokruxes. But then the actual fight between Voldemort and Harry lasts a very short amount of pages – it didn’t feel evenly paced. It didn’t feel as carefully plotted out as the other books have. And let’s not even talk about the last chapter that was lazy story-telling, cheesy epilogue scene created to make you feel that bittersweet sensation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bittersweet. What I don’t love is when I know I’m purposefully being made into feeling one feeling, a certain feeling or reaction. I don’t like seeing the author pull the strings; as soon as I do, I stop feeling anything at all.

There are several deaths in this, although surprisingly few if you think about the sort of battle that takes place in it, but only one had any impact on me – made me cry, and made it actually hard to continue reading because my vision was blurred. But it was also the only time I felt sad, although this book is filled with things to be sad about. The reason I think is to do with the above mentioned – I saw the strings, so I couldn’t help but focus on them. But there are other feelings except sadness – and one thing I did feel, and strongly, was irritation. And frustration. Especially towards Ron, which in this book is absolutely the point, and is in that sense successful. But I also felt frustration at some things I had never felt before – the fact that so many background characters get no real shape, or that Slytherin constantly gets such a bad rep and I don’t get that because it’s one of the houses so why is there never any good or even praiseworthy actions from the students of that house? If it’s not filled with “bad” people, why does no Slytherin character get to challenge that prejudice? One thing I realised as I was reading this book is that the actual Harry Potter books, at least this one although I’m pretty sure this could be said for all of them – still lack a certain amount of depth. Yes – they create a sort of basic outline of amazing worlds, of Hogwarts, Gringotts, etc. – but it’s really the fandom that has made the entire Harry Potter world so rich. What I mean to say is that the things the books lacked in, the fandom has made up for, has really filled in and developed into something that is alive and is growing and changing. And I think, without the fandom, the Harry Potter books would be a great but ultimately simply a young-adult fantasy series that would soon be added to the piles of books of similar character, instead of the epic place the Harry Potter series has worldwide.

Getting back to the “young-adult fantasy” thing, as I was reading this book I felt again for the first time that this really has been written towards a younger audience. By that, I mean that it follows the plot-driven, not particularly rich-in-detail sort of writing that is common to this type of book. For some reason I have always thought the Harry Potter books were so incredibly rich and with so many layers, so much depth, and in some aspects that’s true but when it comes to the writing, I’ve realised I find J. K. Rowling’s style and voice to be slightly underwhelming. It might be especially noticeable to me as I’ve just read her novel The Casual Vacancy. But nevertheless, it was an interesting discovery for me as it contrasted to my prior impressions of the Harry Potter books.

All this being said, I still enjoyed reading this book immensely. It’s easy to get into, it’s for the most part fast paced, it’s thrilling even when I knew the major plot line. It was fun to return to Hogwarts and to all of the characters I feel I know so well; Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Mrs Weasley, Mc Gonagall, Lupin, etc. And I was happy to finally wrap this story up, even though I’m sure I will return to it one day.

Reflecting on a year passed

Some things have become quite clear as the year has passed, and that is that I don’t do well under any form of rules for my buying habits. This seems to be a general trend for me, although it has been especially obvious with books since that’s what the majority of my money goes to. I never go overboard in the sense that I spend more money that I have, or that I can afford. I never drown in books in my room because I have nowhere to put them either (although, it’s getting there, I need more shelf-space!). But whenever I say to myself that I’ll only buy x amount of books, or only from x places, I set myself up for failure. I suppose I am a born ‘rebel’, determined to break the rules even if I’m the one who made them.

I made a few reading related goals at the end of last year, a few of these were related to the buying of books – all of which I broke within the first few months of the year, then discarded. I had one big goal which was to read about 50% nonfiction, another thing I tweaked although I have definitely read more nonfiction than previous years so I consider it a win. Something I noticed as I was reading nonfiction, and trying to prioritise them, was that nonfiction (non-memoir) books takes me longer to read than fiction. The reason is probably that I read nonfiction the way I do course literature – I read it as if I’m going to get tested on it. By that I mean I read it slowly in order to remember as much of it as possible, to understand it, to add the knowledge to my minds’ library that I can use at a later date if the day ever comes when this knowledge will be useful. And I guess it’s not that strange that my reading is different for the two forms of writing – since I also read them for different reasons.

   I read fiction to be entertained, to experience different world views and different lived experiences, to be inspired by beautiful writing and to be spellbound by stories, words, magic. But I read nonfiction to broaden my horizons, to learn about things I didn’t know about before, to go deeper into areas I’ve only tiptoed on, to get a richer understanding of our world, to see the differences and the similarities between cultures, people, places, species. Sometimes the reasons overlap, some books cross the borders, do multiple things, and challenge my perceptions of these two “genres” of writing. But as a general observation, I have a slower reading pace when I’m reading nonfiction (memoirs not included, since they don’t seem to follow the same pace).

Which is why I was okay with not reading as many nonfiction books as fiction in the entirety of the year, because then I’d have to read a lot less in total, and another one of my goals was to read 70 books this year. I’m closing in on it, with only 4 books left to reach it. Which should be fairly easy to do before the last day of December.

Another goal that I was hoping to make real progress with was to read more translated books. Although this year has been a definite improvement, and the amount of books I’ve read this year from non-English authors have been at least half of the books I’ve read, the countries are not as diverse as I would like them to be. The majority of the translated books I’ve read are from Japan, which isn’t something I necessarily want to change as I want to become closely familiar with Japanese literature as a whole. But I feel I’ve still only dipped my toe into the other countries in Asia, not to talk of the entire continent of Africa and South America. I can only keep trying to find new authors and new titles from around the world to keep widening my net within literature.

One of my smaller goals was to reread two books that weren’t my two most reread books (The Little Prince and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). This goal I have definitely surpassed. I reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in January, followed by The Order of the Phoenix late in the summer. I also reread both Winnie the Pooh books this autumn. All of the rereading I did was a lot of fun and I hope to keep revisiting old favourites in upcoming years.

Lastly I made a goal to annotate more in my books. I wanted to interact more with my books when I’m reading, not to be afraid of writing in them, putting pencil to paper and leave a mark of my having been there. One thing I have noticed though is that underlining is almost as passive as not doing any annotating at all – which is to say, underlining is only useful to remember specific quotes or sections. But it doesn’t show any of your reactions to what is said in the text. You can’t tell whether the underlinings were something that angered you, made you happy, inspired you, or made you want to hit the author in the face. I guess I just realised that underlining isn’t enough for me, because if I reread a book I’ve annotated years from now I won’t know what those underlinings (or sticky note marks) mean or meant to the me back then, then they won’t serve much of a purpose and it’ll only annoy me with cluttering the text.

   I also seem to have become used to underlining so that I almost do it passively now, barely reflecting on the text because I have underlined it I don’t have to remember it. This discussion is a bit simplified, and only my experience on it, but basically I’ve realised I want to keep pushing myself to read more critically and with more awareness, and one way to do this is to annotate. In the form of marginalia. This is what I’m trying to move towards now. I’m not planning to start filling all of the books I read in scribbles, but that I at least have a pencil at hand so that when the thought strikes I’ll be able to jot it down.

So these were a few of the things I learned from my goals for this year, how I did and how some of them were discarded early on while others are still in progress. For next year I’m planning to cut back and simplify a bit more, also because of the goal I had to read what I want, not what I think I should – kind of fits into that. I’ll talk more about the goals for the upcoming year in a future post, later in the month.

If you had any goals for your reading in 2016, I’d love to hear how they went, if you changed them or forgot about them or even actively decided to throw it all out the window. Does reading goals work for you? And do you have any plans for your reading in 2017 already brewing?

Until next time, happy reading!

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy was J. K. Rowling’s first book after Harry Potter, and her first adult book at that. Because of that, I know many people went into this book expecting certain things – expecting this book to have the same magical place and story even if there might not be any actual magic. I didn’t go into this book with that sort of mindset, neither was this my first of her books other than Harry Potter – I read her crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling just last year. But I will say this book underwhelmed me. There were definitely things I liked about it, but overall I felt the execution lacking.

The story is set in a small suburban town in England in present time. One of the members of this community, Barry Fairbrother, dies within the first chapter or so – and the rest of the book is sort of the aftermath of this incident and how it affected the community. His death happens right in the middle of a political struggle between two sides in the town, the people who want to keep Yarvel within their community boundaries and the ones who don’t. Barry, being one of the representatives for the yes side, dying creates waves of change within the political structures, throws the whole community into chaos, and generally affects the lives of many families – many of which we see throughout this book.

I’ve heard people call this book slow paced and a character focused book. I’ll say yes to the first statement – this is definitely a slow burner. The main reason for this is I think the fact that it’s mainly made up of smaller events and dialogues and meetings that build up into the full picture, and also things that happen earlier on lead to consequences further in the book. It’s told in an unhurried sense, shifting perspective between characters more frequently than chapter headings, even within the same page. The character hopping is something you get used to, though I think it might be a negative for some readers.

However, I wouldn’t call this a character study. The reason for this is that rather than it being about one or even a few characters and their lives, it’s more about the community and the communal relationships, the dynamics within the community, the shared lives of these people and their families. Yes, the characters rather than any sort of plot is the focus – the Jawandas, the Mollisons, the Fairbrothers, etc. – all of these families that have their own issues and their own structures within themselves but also the way the families and the way each individual interacts with other groups, other people, and other settings. The group dynamic is the focus – which is what I liked most about the book as a whole. It was filled with drama as small communities are probably bound to be filled with, delightfully so. It’s also gratifying to see each piece of the puzzle – of the community – come together as you start to get to know the people in the town, start to recognize them in the text and to set them apart, to paint the town and become a part of it.

But another reason I think the book feels so slow paced also comes from the previous story telling technique or focus – the fact that the community is in focus and the perspective changes so often, makes it harder for you as a reader to get to know the characters, and to care for them. It takes a much longer time to feel acquainted with any of them, and even to the end the only character I truly cared for was Suhkvinder. Every time I felt a strong emotional response from reading this book was when I was reading her parts, I cried at least twice and found it a bit hard to keep reading the second time even though I was nearing the end of the book and wanted to know how it was going to wrap up. But for me at least it took a really long time (long time like about 400 pages) to start feeling like I knew these people, to feel like I was there, to care about anyone or anything – to not just be amused but to feel like I wanted to root for someone, or want to read more of someone. Basically I feel it shouldn’t take more than two thirds of a book to start caring, and I would probably have given up on this book had I not read so much already.

As for the writing, it’s actually very easy to read. J. K. Rowling’s prose isn’t much to comment on. I feel she’s a pretty good story teller but the actual writing isn’t noteworthy, same as with The Cuckoo’s Calling (I haven’t read the Harry Potter books in English so I don’t dare comment on them). The language has very little beauty in itself, and sometimes she goes for the easy or the expected even in story telling – but there were instances of interesting writing, like when she kind of doubled dialogue with inner thoughts. Every other line would tell the story that is going on in a present dialogue and then one of the characters inner thoughts in that same time would be interwoven in the dialogue in parathesis. I thought it was an interesting way to really reflect how interactions with other people actually look like, even her dialogues – when people cut each other off, is definitely more accurate than much dialogue I’ve read in my life.

I still think The Casual Vacancy has its strengths and reasons for reading it, although it’s up to the reader to decide on the whole caring-bit, if you’re willing to stick with it or not. Or you might not have any problems with the caring at all – if you’ve read the book, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading!

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

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H is for Hawk is a memoir, but more accurately put it’s made up of three parallel parts: nature writing, grief memoir, and something of a biography of the writer, T. H. White. In the nature writing sections Helen Macdonald talks of her experience in training a goshawk – the trials that came with the process, the actual steps and mishaps, the mistakes and the realization – all part of the process of training an animal. There’s also a further exploration of falconry and its history – she talks not just of her own experience with animals (birds in particular) but also of others experiences and stories, of the historical context in which falconry first became popular, its link to society in medieval times, and how its place has changed within the present time. She describes her outings with Mabel, her goshawk, as she meets people on the streets, in the woods, flying Mabel. How people react to her and Mabel, and also how she reacts towards other people after spending more time with Mabel than other human beings. The nature writing parts of this book is probably what I enjoyed the most. I felt they were the most solid too in terms of writing, there were sections of beautiful descriptions of nature. There were interesting observations too, for example she talks of the complicated history behind our perceptions of beautiful nature and ‘natural’ nature too. What is beautiful and admirable nature, what sort of environments are glorified are not simple facts, true in a vacuum. Instead, our perceptions of the world, nature included, is very much linked to the historical and social context around us. Of course, there’s also the subjectivity that comes with talk of beauty but her point still made for some reflection.

The next part is the grief memoir aspect of the book. Helen Macdonald lost her father and started writing this book shortly after, as far as I can tell. Her decision to start training a hawk is sort of a response to that. She talks of her father, about her process in dealing with his death, how to learn to comprehend the finality of his existence and of how she could continue to live in a world where he was no longer alive. Because for me, that is what most of her actions comes down to – trying to figure out how to live again, starting over, going forward, but also sometimes going backwards. It shows in her odd choices and destructive behaviours, in her seeming to be lost for some time before making her way back into the world, or rather human society. I think there are many parts of this section that are very honest, even when things she’s said or done are far from praiseworthy. The honesty was what I liked best about this part of the book. However, there were things mostly to do with the writing that I didn’t like so much. She mentions somewhere in the book that she was very influenced by Freud’s psychoanalytical theories in college, or something along those lines, and I feel she was still very much inspired by this theoretical perspective when writing this book. The overanalyzing is very imminent in the book, from start to finish. She overanalyzes her own actions, her own thoughts, her own feelings; she dissects everything and tries to put meaning into things where there might not be any. But she goes further to put meaning not only in her own story but also in the people around her; Mabel, her father, and T. H White, for instance.

The last third of the book, the T. H. White bits, was definitely what I liked least about this. She writes about T. H White as if he was a fictional character, or better yet as if she knew him personally. She recounts his life, not just in terms of his writing but paints a picture of his house, the interior design of it, his job as a teacher, his behaviour towards the students, his feelings towards the hawk, and much more. For me it would’ve been fine had she stuck to his writing, the things he has actually written (I’m guessing parts of her descriptions are based on his words, other things based on people who knew him but the source is rarely evident in the text) and in particular her feelings and reactions to his writing. Those parts, the literary criticism type parts, I did enjoy. I liked seeing her dissecting his words, especially in his book ‘The Goshawk’ where he is training a hawk and she is paralleling it with her own experience. But I just couldn’t accept the descriptions of his actions and feelings or thoughts (“He looked at ..”, “He thought about..”) as if she knew this man who she never met, and not simply knew him, but intimately so. Had this been set out to be a biography of T. H. White, it would’ve been easier to swallow since you’d know a good biographer would do a great deal of research and would also be good at referencing the sources. But in this book, the way she writes an almost biographical account of T. H. White felt out of place. Then there’s her tendency to overanalyze things, which as I said is a problem for me in general with this book. When I say overanalyze I mean she often puts meaning into things after the fact, with a mindset and from a perspective in the present that doesn’t necessarily reflect the thoughts of the past self. Or looking with modern eyes on a historical event, a historical person or concept. Of course it’s a human trait to try to find meaning in things, to want to make sense of the world, to put things in order. I’m guessing most of us do it to some extent on a regular basis. And in itself, the search for knowledge is just that – putting meaning into things that perhaps had no clear meaning before, making sense, ordering, etc. But if she wanted to include it in the book, personally I think the book could’ve done without it, I’d prefer to see a clear reasoning for her conclusions along the way too.

All in all, I think there were pieces of beauty and of honesty, and more importantly some things especially the way humans perceive other animals, and how we put (human) meaning onto animals, were rather thought provoking and very much worth reading. For me personally her writing style and perhaps even her way of seeing the world sometimes got in the way of enjoyment and of connection to this book, but I don’t regret reading it – I’m going to further explore in particular nature writing as its what I liked most about H is for Hawk.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

In Order to Live is Yeonmi Park’s memoir about her life growing up in North Korea, escaping to China, and then eventually traveling through Mongolia to South Korea where she found freedom. Her story is filled with tragedy, absolute horror, fear, and death – but also of hope, of resilience and of the will to live being able to conquer even the most challenging of conditions. The fact that an entire population is more or less being kept hostage, and this having been true for a long time, is shocking – reading this book was truly eye-opening, especially because of the very real, very current, situation of life in North Korea. I knew very little about this country or its politics, government, etc. beyond a sense of it being a state of oppression. I think I am also not alone in knowing so little about the situation in North Korea, part of what its government does is trying to suppress information leak, but more and more voices are being heard – and Yeonmi Park is one of those voices who adds knowledge, who allows us to see up front all of the badness of the world – not just in North Korea, but her life in China, human trafficking, even the struggles to adapt to modern societies and life when she had arrived into safety in South Korea.

Yeonmi Park talks about her life growing up in North Korea, about her family, and all of the things she was taught by North Korean government from birth – the almost religious way the people are being taught to think of the leaders of its country. For most of her life in North Korea and even for a while years later when she had gone through so much, she still had trouble letting go of old habits, of a worldview, of things she had been taught since she was so young. One of the things that I think is so important in her narrative, that is brought into light is the fact that when a person is taught to think a certain way, be a certain way, act, do, etc. in accordance to one certain lifeview – it’s very hard to change and it might take many years to re-write one’s mind and heart to a new way of living. I think this part of her story is also applicable to many other people’s lives, not just from North Korea but from other countries of war. The story doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”, just like Yeonmi Park’s story didn’t end when she arrived in South Korea.

I think her honesty is incredibly praiseworthy. Yeonmi Park talks about the things she had to do to survive and her guilt in leaving family and friends behind in North Korea. In her escape she knew she put others too at risk, from the people who helped her escape to the people who still lives in North Korea today. She talks about her experience in coming out with her story and how hard it was for her to make the decision to tell her story, but that she felt it was important in taking one step in showing the world the truth of North Korea, of human trafficking, of her life experiences and the truth of so many people’s lives still.

This truly is an important book and I cannot recommend it enough.

Until next time, happy reading!