Women On The Verge…


This issue of Bookissh finds two works with women at the center.  In either or both readers witness women coping with powerlessness, forced change, and limited opportunity.  Readers witness women experience self discovery as result of risk and survival.  It is remarkable how far women have come, and in moments when it feels like the car has stalled, how far women have yet to go.  Present company included.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Carefully structured, Thomas takes readers into the life of Starr Carter and the African American community of Garden Heights. Thomas lays down issues so many:  the fleeing Black middle class choosing between community and survival whose departure takes businesses, jobs, tax dollars, education budgets, church tills, safety, identity and home.  Readers will firsthand experience what it’s like to fragment the self by using tools like code/switch flipping, which simply stated, is being two people in one body, always on the edge of choosing the situationally driven response that brings the greatest comfort and ease. Thomas tastefully invites readers to learn co-opting–taking in a cultural practice, experiencing its effect, and the hidden perspectives which govern this action.  She shows reader what happens when is it ok to act like one is a member of a different group and when one embarrassingly discovers one’s not.  Stated differently, this is referred to as the challenge in blending assumptions regarding race, class, status and power.

In this story Thomas quietly unfolds thoughts and steps which led to and fed the Black Lives Matter movement.  She takes us from Dr. Huey P. Newton, political activist and revolutionary and co-founder of the Black Panthers Party, to Tupac Shakur and the deep positive messages hidden within his verse.  Further layered in is the Fresh Prince, and the premise of this story being somewhat akin to Starr’s.  Starr moves from one community profoundly different than the other and how like the Fresh Prince manages the tension during such travel.  In consideration of feminism, I wonder where the words of historic and/or culturally contributing African American women are in this work as they don’t speak as loudly in “The Hate U Give.” Aside from this, the story stands tall during every storm weathered upon it.

Since you should read and savor this book, what I can tell you is that it begins with a hot party over Spring break where a shoot-up takes place.  Starr witnesses firsthand, her friend, 16 year old Khalil, African-American, unarmed, and drug/alcohol free, be shot site on seen by an officer on the edge, panicked due to a nearby explosion of gun violence.  The plot quickly unfolds as characters scurry hither and to in attempt to advance their cause.  Readers experience Starr’s struggle to hide her identity as witness of Khalil’s tragic death from her private school and neighborhood friends and family.  Starr struggles due to the dangers involved from multiple stakeholders including the police and the local gangs.  Starr struggles feeling safe anywhere and Khalil’s murder affects everyone, everywhere as it is the bold name on the list too long of deceased victims.

Khalil’s death and the community response has to change how we live, how we all define our world and live together differently–and live better. Give this book a read, pass it around, talk about it, promote change.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The story of 4 generations, 7 decades of a Korean born family and their immigrant experience during imperialist Japan.  During this story people are expelled from and locked out of their homeland. Discrimination, poverty, and white-washed, addiction-provoking businesses are pretty much the options for the migrant Korean majority during this book.

In keeping with the allied relationship between the US and South Korea, this book does not romanticize North Korea in the slightest which endorses the heaviness of struggle within this story.  There is no motherland, homeland, or comfort in present living.

“Pachinko” is organized into three books: Gohyang: Hometown 1910-1933; Motherland 1939-1962; Pachinko: 1962-1989.  Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and its broad impact and World War II, readers follow the family of Sunja and the fathers of her sons, Isak and Hansu as the secrets of the son’s origins are buried deeply within the family strife of simply trying to eat and live in a Japan unfriendly to Koreans.  This is the story of arranged marriage, widows, betrayal, culture clash, and underground economies.  Deeper within, is the value system emphasizing education as a way to uplift the community and working harder, being better will mend deep wounds within the Korean community.

A whomping 485 pages and about 100 pages too long.  Overemphasized within the page count was daily toil while deemphasized was solid sensory description of the food and setting within which the family moved.  Too shallow was the deep sense of loss, frustration and anger characters suffered and it lacked emotional vocabulary.

Subtle feminism is woven throughout the narrative allowing women to make daring choices however represented as frivolous.  Being a woman is a burden in “Pachinko” and the only reward celebrated is to know love. The gender imbalance continues as the male point of view is entirely too feminized and incomplete.  It lacks the power and violence men can unleash and portrays them as gently extracting for perfunctory purposes.  Male characters are portrayed as distant benefactors who know tragedy intimately and quietly accept it as life withers them away.

It was a GOOD book, but flickers in comparison to some of the recent releases from other South Korean authors, Han Kang, in “Human Acts” or “The Vegatarian.”  In “Pachinko” the messages run deep–what does love require? Blind sacrifice, quiet obligation and unquestioned obedience.  Broader so, tradition suceeds glory as a nation becomes increasingly homeless as politics shape shifts and undermines the allied side of the country.

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