historical fiction

READ THE WORLD – South Korea: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, her family faces ruin until a Christian minister offers her a chance for a new life in Japan as his wife. Leaving her parents and her home in Korea with a man she barely knows, Sunja’s second chance in life in a hostile country will be nothing like she suspects.

Spanning from 1910 to 1989 Pachinko follows four generations of one family. This allows you to get to know characters from birth, through their turbulent lives and, to some characters, their death. While some parts of the story are an uninterrupted narrative and you follow the family for a number of consecutive years, other parts jump forward in time and a character that was teenager is now an adult.

This makes it sometimes difficult to connect with the characters. I found Pachinko a bit slow to start with as I got used to the setting and the socio-economic politics presented that I was unaware of beforehand. After a while something clicked for me with this book as I was pulled in by this family and how global events shaped their lives.

These characters in Pachinko feel very real. They’re often a victim of their own circumstance, they are sometimes sympathetic, they can be frustrating and unlikable, just like real people. Sometimes they are presented with a difficult decision and really there’s only one option they can take, on the most part you understand their choices and motivations, while with others it’s not so clear.

I liked how this was the story of a family of immigrants and you got to see what life was like for Koreans who moved to Japan. Pachinko shows there was a lot of distrust on both sides due to the Japanese conquering Korea and their actions during the two World Wars. For decades, the Japanese see the Koreans as second-class citizens, and even if someone is born in Japan, they do not automatically become a Japanese citizen, even though Japan is the only home they know. Pachinko shows how all of this affects the different members of the family in different ways, how over time some things change and get better, while others do not.

At over 500 pages, Pachinko is an intimidating read but the writing style is simple and accessible, meaning once I’d connected to the characters I got pulled along with their story. Pachinko offers an insight into life in Japan for Koreans and it presents the idea of what or where is truly home. It’s all about family and belonging, how family may not always be who you’re related to by blood and how home can mean different things to different people. 4/5.

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REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he has too much fun for that. Neither being kicked out of the finest boarding schools in England nor his father’s disapproval can stop him drinking, gambling or waking up in the arms of women or men. As Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, along with his best friend Percy (who he may be in love with) and his younger sister Felicity, he has one final year of fun until he must return home and to be a part of his father’s business. But things go awry when Monty’s usual recklessness turns their trip abroad into a manhunt across Europe, putting himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so much fun. It’s set in the 1700’s which allows for a different kind of travelling adventure. They can’t get money easily, there’s now quick communication to back home if things go wrong so when you encounter highway men or pirates you’re on your own with just your wits.

Monty, Percy and Felicity are a great trio of characters with interesting dynamics. Felicity was the one I loved straight away. She’s a young lady due to go to finishing school when all she really wants to do is go to the school’s her brother has been kicked out of. But due to her gender and the times that’s not possible, no matter how smart and eager she is. Percy is the nephew of a nobleman but he has never really fitted in to high society due to his Barbadian mother. Even though his childhood must’ve been difficult he is warm and kind and cares about Monty a lot. Monty took longer to grow on me as the problems he ends up facing really help him grow and learn more about himself. He’s selfish and only thinks about how other people’s issues affects him, he’s a charmer and doesn’t think before he acts – all qualities that are often simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

Monty’s voice shines through in the writing, making this 500-page novel fly by. Also, the fact that Monty ends up in almost non-stop escapades definitely helps make it a book that’s difficult to put down. From England, to France and beyond their adventures and the mystery they uncover often verges into the absurd but it’s all told with such charm and wit that it ends up being quite brilliant. Along with all the excitement and threat of danger, there’s still quieter moments between the characters that show they aren’t necessarily cut out for this kind of thing but being together makes them stronger and better.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great historical adventure story with a bisexual main character, an engaging romance and a colourful cast of characters. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Germany: Sirius by Jonathan Crown

In Berlin, he was named Levi – a good Jewish name for a good Jewish dog. When he fled with his owners to America he became Hercules, Hollywood’s famous acting dog. Then he caught the eye of Hitler he was renamed Hansi. But to the Resistance he was known as Sirius, the dog on the inside who could bring peace to a world at war. No matter the name, he’s a little dog who almost changed history.

Sirius is a historical novel that’s mostly told from the point of view of the titular dog. He is the focal point of much of the action, it’s through his eyes the reader see’s major events like Kristallnacht, so there’s often this distance between the action and what it really means as while Sirius is smart, he’s still just a dog who doesn’t understand what’s happening. The story also follows Sirius’s human family, the Liliencron’s, so the more emotive stuff comes from them as they flee Germany and make new lives from themselves amongst famous face of Hollywood’s golden age.

Sirius is written in a simple language style and is a very quick and easy book to read that’s got some humour in it. Having a dog being the main character makes this book have an unusual take on historical events. It’s one of those stories where you wonder where the fiction ends and the fact begins due to Sirius meeting so many real people from Hollywood executive Jack L. Warner to Adolf Hitler. There’s some things I know cannot be true and Sirius and his human family have been dropped into a real moment in time, where there’s other parts that seem almost plausible.

The main problem I had with Sirius is that I didn’t really connect with characters. Maybe it was because of the writing style but there was this distance between the characters and myself as the reader. I was interested in Sirius’s adventures to an extent but it wasn’t really a book I felt compelled to keep reading.

If you’re a dog lover (I am and that’s the main reason I picked up this book in the first place) and someone interested in a different kind of story set during World War Two then give Sirius a go.

REVIEW: Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead

FullSizeRender (80)Bran’s father the king has been killed and while he is heir to the throne, the invading Frenic have set up their own ruler of Elfael. Forced to run in order to survive Bran must decide whether he wants to continue running or stop and help his people take back what is rightfully theirs. All the while the legendary King Raven has returned and is haunting the woodlands.

Hood is a retelling of the legend of Robin Hood. Bran is this tales Robin and he is not the most likeable character to begin with. He’s never wanted to be King and all he wanted was to escape and leave the problems of Elfael behind. He doesn’t even really care for his people to start with. It’s Angharad, an old wise woman who knows the way of magic and healing who helps him find his path. Angharad is pretty awesome. She’s wise, mysterious and knows more than she should. (more…)

REVIEW: X – a novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

FullSizeRender (73)X is a fictionalised account of Malcolm X’s childhood and adolescence before he became known as Malcolm X. X is written by his daughter and that brings a unique aspect to the novel and at the end she writes about the differences between real life and the novel.

I found X fascinating. As a book about any young man it’s gripping as he goes from a small town to Boston to then Harlem and all the interesting people he meets along the way – but when you factoring in the fact it’s Malcolm X’s life it becomes even more gripping. I’ve never really known much about Malcolm X so it was great learning more about him.

X is a quick read as while it’s mostly in chronological order, following Malcolm from age 15, there’s often sections that jump back in time and place so you can see more about his childhood and how that influenced him. The themes of family and religion and how important they can be is weaved throughout the novel and makes certain moments have an emotional punch.

X is set from the late 1930’s to the 1960’s and it was fascinating to see a more personal take on that time and the abuse and discrimination that black people had to face. It can be shocking and upsetting but I think it’s an important part of history to remember.

X is a fascinating read and an important one too if you want to know more about a great Civil Rights leader. It’s action packed and full of vibrant characters and humour and definitely worth reading. 5/5.