“Book Nook” feature writer Abby Pinard returns with four recommendations for recent novels.
By Min Jin Lee, 2017
“History has failed us, but no matter.”
So begins this absorbing saga of a Korean family in twentieth-century Japan. There are no beautiful sentences in Pachinko, but no matter. The members of this family are so well drawn and the harsh realities of being perpetual outsiders even in the fourth generation are so movingly portrayed that unadorned prose suits the story just fine.
“In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastard, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make, or how nice I am.” The money made, after decades of poverty, is from pachinko parlors, one of the few money-making opportunities available to Koreans who are barred from traditional occupations in Japan. I’m certain many readers of this novel were unaware of this particular shameful episode of segregation and discrimination. Now we know. And we know the characters in this novel, failed by history and ricocheting through their lives like the balls in a pachinko game. They are so complex, conflicted, and real that they will stay with you long after you finish the book.
by Lisa Halliday, 2018
This very fine debut novel juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated stories is made irresistible by the peek into the relationship between a young woman and a much older Philip Roth-like writer, drawn from a relationship that Halliday actually did have with Roth in her 20s. But that’s only the way into this novel. Come for the gossip value, stay for the subtle, thoughtful exploration of big questions of identity and art.
EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL
by Mira T. Lee, 2018
How nice to have expectations exceeded! I didn’t expect much from this debut novel, which I plucked off the library shelf on the strength of one review and the fact that the author is a casual friend of my daughter’s. Mira T. Lee writes with great assurance and control about mental illness and its devastating effects on loved ones. The story is told from multiple, neatly overlapping perspectives but is most powerful when we hear from Lucia herself — her thirst for life and love, the periodic struggle with the serpents in her head, and the increasingly fraught relationship with the sister who is torn between responsibility and helplessness. The novel is heart-wrenching without stooping to mawkishness, except for one forgivable lapse at the very end. I’m delighted to recommend it.
by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell), 2017
Don’t start Fever Dream unless you have about two hours to be mystified, horrified, and paralyzed by the sense of dread that permeates this short novel. A woman named Amanda, dying in a clinic in rural Argentina, is pressed by a boy named David, who is not her son, to remember and recount the events that brought them here. Where is Nina, Amanda’s daughter? Amanda repeatedly refers to the “rescue distance” — how far from her the child is at any given moment so she can rescue her if something terrible happens because, as her grandmother told her mother and her mother has told her, something terrible will happen.
Something terrible has happened. People, especially children, are being poisoned by agricultural chemicals. A psychic is “transmigrating” the souls of poisoned children into other bodies in an attempt to save them. The novel is a hallucinatory dream, an eco-disaster cautionary tale, a supernatural thriller, and a powerful gut-punch about mothers attempting to protect their children. There is no tidy resolution, nothing to assuage the terror Samanta Schweblin has provoked. You’ve been warned.
(Fever Dream unexpectedly won the 2018 Tournament of Books against much better known and more widely read competition. https://themorningnews.org/tob/)
A lifelong book nut, Abby retired from a forty-year computer software career and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. A native New Yorker, she moved to Boston to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.