Archive for October, 2017

Origin

Monday, October 30th, 2017

32283133By Dan Brown

The Short Take:

Where did we come from? Where are we going? These  two questions dominate Brown’s new not-so-thrilling thriller. This opus, which brings back the brilliant Robert Langdon, contains far more talk about ideas than thrilling action.  The talk is certainly intriguing, however, dwelling on topics as diverse as Gaudí’s architecture, Winston Churchill, and artificial intelligence. Of course, the central issue is science versus religion — past, present, and future.

Why?

Usually thrillers put their main characters into precarious situations chapter after chapter. While there are some close calls in Origin, this book mainly explores ideas. That means a lot of talking, thinking, and general exposition.

Not that it isn’t interesting. Of course, Brown explores some of my favorite topics, from the history of religion to evolution to the natural fluidity of Antoni Gaudí’s buildings. Plus there’s quite a bit about science, the advances in computing power, and the meanings behind modern art installations that might puzzle most of us. It’s all interesting stuff, but more than once I found myself thinking, “Get on with it, Dan.”

A Little Plot:

Famous billionaire/atheist/futurist/inventor Edmund Kirsch is ready to make an announcement he claims will provide the answer to life’s ultimate questions: where we came from and where we are going. Ultimately, Langdon and a beautiful museum director have to help get the word out.

For more about Dan Brown and his work, click here.

Pachinko

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

UnknownBy Min Jin Lee

The Short Take:

This multi-generational epic traces the trials and loyalties of a Korean family in Japan between the early 1900s and 1989. Lee undertook significant research to write this novel and it certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things. More importantly, her characters are both inspired and inspiring.

Why?

Lee draws her title from the Japanese pachinko gambling game, where you manipulate a ball through a series of pins hoping for a lucky outcome. However, as with their slot machine cousins, luck is usually not on your side.

It’s the same for the generations of a Korean family living in Japan, where they are consistently discriminated against and marginalized. All they can do is work diligently and cling to each other while striving to improve opportunities for the next generation.

Lee’s writing style compliments the language barriers between her characters, where illiteracy and three different languages create divides. However, the respect and love within the family — along with an unbreakable hope for the future — bind them together despite the numerous catastrophes that befall, from an unwanted pregnancy to World War II. It’s a rich reading experience, with passages of great emotional power along with moments of the quietest tenderness.

What surprised me is that Koreans born in Japan, even after four or more generations, are still considered foreigners, required to register for permissionto stay at age 14, must re-register every four years, and can be deported at any time. They can not hold Japanese passports, meaning travel is impossible unless they manage to get a North or South Korea passport. It’s a tragic situation, especially considering they are were brought there to do the work the Japanese didn’t want to do.

A Little Plot:

When Korea is under Japanese rule, a very young Sunja meets an elegant older man who takes advantage of her innocence. An idealistic missionary offers to marry her give her unborn child his name, and takes her to Japan. Once there the order of the day is work and poverty, with danger lurking in many forms.

For more about Min Jin Lee and her work, click here.

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