I read this in September 2019 and again in September 2022. Posting it as a “quote dump” in November 2022 (backdated to September since that’s when I finished it), part of a new push to get my gazillion draft posts up so they are at least searchable. I may or may not ever come back to turn them into a proper “review,” which isn’t even exactly what I do here… more like an impression?
September 2019: Common Read for Amherst College. Min Jin Lee is the new Writer-in-Residence so I got to attend her talk for the incoming freshmen, which I enjoyed tremendously—more than the novel. I did find it engrossing and interesting, but the writing is a little clunky in parts. My favorite aspect was all the Korean food and culture I got to look up:
- ponytail radishes – omg there are so many kinds of radishes, but not as diverse as the types of Brassica oleraceae
- mompei – baggy Japanese work pants often dyed with indigo
- Koreans having to adopt Japanese surnames
- We use (store-bought) gochujang to make our own version of bibimbap, but I didn’t know about doenjang
- jesa – ceremonies honoring deceased ancestors
- tayaki – fish-shaped waffles – in the US there’s a chain that uses them for soft-serve ice cream, and I’d love to try it! I did, summer 2022 in Boston – more fun than delicious, but glad I had it once
- gimbap – like Korean sushi
- noonchi – emotional intelligence, literally “eye-measure” – such a useful term!
- chima – long billowy skirt
- “cha color” – I guess this is brown, based on this amazing list? Some of those remind me of the neural net color names – a comedy classic!
- unagiya – eel restaurant – I recently read something about a famous eel restaurant, I think M. Manze, and wish I could remember where I saw the article. It was about how most people who ordered eel didn’t really like it.
Yes, life in Osaka would be difficult, but things would change for the better. They’d make a tasty broth from stones and bitterness.
She would not believe that she was no different than her parents, that seeing him as only Korean—good or bad—was the same as seeing him only as a bad Korean. She could not see his humanity, and Noa realized that this was what he wanted most of all: to be seen as human.
However, she didn’t believe her son had come from a bad seed. The Japanese said the Koreans had too much anger and heat in their blood. Seeds, blood, how could you fight such hopeless ideas? Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe in such cruel ideals.
Re-read for Second Monday in September, 2022. The last quote above is the only one I marked both times!
- “For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life.”
- “You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination.”
- “Now that he was gone, Sunja held on to her father’s warmth and kind words like polished gems.”
- “Patriotism is just an idea, so is capitalism or communism. But ideas can make men forget their own interests. And the guys in charge will exploit men who believe in ideas too much.”
- “At lunchtime, Haruki sat at the end of the long table with two seat gaps around him like an invisible parenthesis while the other boys in their dark woolen uniforms stuck together like a tight row of black corn kernels.”
- “The fools here have pumpkins for heads, and seeds are not brains.”
- “Her wet, shining eyes blinked, lit up like lanterns. Her young face shone through the old one.”
- “It had been eleven years since he’d died; the pain didn’t go away, but its sharp edge had dulled and softened like sea glass.”