The Underground Railroad

Rating: .5
Author: Colson Whitehead
Genres: Historical Fiction, Re-imagined History
Pub Date: Aug. 2016 (read Apr. 2018)

This book is breaking my heart…. because I didn’t love it…. I didn’t even really like it.

I picked this for my April Challenge to read 3 award-winning books. This won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for fiction, so I had high hopes that I would enjoy this. It’s definitely a good book, I won’t debate that, but it’s just so unbelievably SLOW! It’s only 300 pages and it took me 2 and a half weeks to read. On average I read a book every 3 days, so this felt like the longest slog ever and I actually had to take a break in the middle to read my book club selection because I wasn’t going to finish this in time.

The Underground Railroad re-imagines the network of people and safehouses that helped black people to escape the south and slavery as an actual underground railroad. It’s an interesting concept, but personally I didn’t really think the railroad had any real impact on this story. Whitehead tells the story of Cora, a young slave in Georgia who after being beaten by her masters, decides to try and escape the cotton plantation where she’s lived her entire life. The plantation has a long and sorry history of slaves escaping the plantation, but they were always caught and returned to the plantation to be killed for trying to escape, except for Cora’s mother Mabel, who abandoned her when she was just a girl and was never re-captured.

Cora begins a journey through many states and is pursued by Ridgeway, a slave catcher who still can forget about Mabel, the one the got away, and is determined to catch Cora to right his past failings. She travels through several states and is witness to the kindness and hate of the people around her, sometimes catching a glimpse of like as a free-woman, and other times forced back into hiding as she continues towards her ultimate goal of escaping to the North.

This is an interesting story, as difficult as it sometimes was to read (content wise, which is sometimes disturbing). But I couldn’t get past the pace of the book and like I said, I thought the whole idea of the underground railroad fell flat. It serves to move our story around, but I didn’t actually find the concept that engaging. I would have liked to know more about the railroad and how it came to be – it was obviously built by slaves, like everything else in America at that time – but we don’t learn that much about it. I understand that this is part of the mystery, but I kind of wondered what the point was. Cora could have travelled between states hidden in the back of a cart and the story wouldn’t have really been any different.

There’s not very many high points in the story. The format was interesting, with Whitehead separating each chapter by a different state and separating the states with short chapters from the points of view of some of the minor characters. I had no idea what the point of the grave digger chapter was, but some of the other chapters were interesting. I was intrigued by Ridgeway’s character and found his and Cora’s relationship interesting.

Maybe I’m too dense for this book, but I just can’t get on board. I appreciate what Whitehead did with this book, but I’m not convinced it was worthy of all the awards. I wanted to love it, but it was just so slow and boring. It had some faster paced parts where I would finally get into the story, but then the chapter would end and everything would change up and be boring again. The story just had no momentum – a disappointing read.

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Before We Were Yours

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Lisa Wingate
Narrated By: Emily Rankin
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: June 2017 (read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I listened to Before We Were Yours as an audiobook. It reminded me a lot of The Alice Network, which I also listened to as an audiobook and had a similar format, alternating back and forth between a present day and historical perspective based on true events. I thought The Alice Network told a fascinating story about a real-life individual, Louise de Bettignies, who ran a spy network in World War I, but I found the second narrative boring, poorly written, and unnecessary to the story. Fortunately I felt differently about Before We Were Yours and while I still thought the writing was a little cliche in places, I thought this story was better done overall.

The whole present day narrator investigating the past is such a common troupe in historical fiction and a lot of the time it’s just not well done (also thinking of The Life She Was Given) but I didn’t mind it too much in this book. In my opinion, this troupe doesn’t always add something meaningful to the story, but I do think this element worked in this book because of the way that families were torn apart and how it took many families generations to reunite, if at all. Audiobooks also tend to make the writing seem a little cheesy and there were definitely parts where I rolled my eyes, but overall this translated well in audiobook and I thought the narrator was fantastic.

Let’s get into the plot. Before We Were Yours focuses on a little known piece of American history that is both fascinating and horrifying. The story starts in Tennessee in 1939 and looks at real-life individual Georgia Tann and her work with the Tennessee Children’s Home. Rill Foss and her 4 siblings have grown up as river gypsies, living in a house boat, running their way up and down the Mississippi River. At the beginning of the novel, their mother is about to give birth with the help of a midwife, but things become complicated when they discover she’s actually pregnant with twins and the midwife forces her to go to a hospital to deliver the babies. The rest of the children spend the night on the river boat with Rill in charge.

However, the following day the police show up and basically kidnap them before dropping them off at the Tennessee Children’s Home. Rill has no idea what happened to her parents or why they’ve been forced to stay at the Children’s Home, but does her best to keep her siblings together, despite the horrors they start to experience.

At the same time, we’re learning about Avery Stafford. A wealthy young lawyer who has returned to her childhood home in South Carolina to be groomed to take over her father’s role as a senator. On a political visit to a senior’s home, she bumps into a old woman named May who seems to know her grandmother and is drawn into a decades old mystery of how these women are connected and what threat this mystery might pose to Avery and the Stafford family in her bid for senator.

Georgia Tann is a real life woman who is often known as the “mother of modern adoption”. She ran the Tennessee Children’s Home, which took care of orphans and children whose parents were too poor to properly take care of them or who turned them over to the state for care. Tann oversaw the care of the children and worked to find them all loving homes (for a price). But what was not known until later is the horrifying conditions the children were forced to live in, the ways they were abused, how they were exploited for financial gain, and the horrifying circumstances through which many of the children were obtained.

While Tann did undoubtedly (indirectly) rescue many children from poor conditions and abusive families and place them in loving wealthy families, she also obtained a lot of the children through shocking means. Some children were kidnapped out of their family homes or off the street, like Rill and her siblings, while others were obtained by tricking the birth mother or parents who were often poor or illiterate. Tann had workers in hospitals who would tell mothers that their newborns had died or trick them into signing papers giving up their children to the state, while Tann would take the children and sell them to wealthy buyers. The extent of the network that Tann had set up is actually shocking and it’s hard to believe that so many people were able to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the children and the birth parents.

Many victims on Tann’s schemes were abused or died while in her care. She did everything to ensure that the children’s families would never be able to find or reunite with their children and separated many siblings, destroying any paper trail that might enable to birth parents to try and get their children back. Equally shocking was that she would sometimes later even harrass the adoptive parents to get further payments from them under the guise of lawyer fees.

Unfortunately Tann was never prosecuted for her crimes as she was very old and sick before they were ever discovered and people generally were of the opinion that the wealthy adoptive families were more fit to raise the children than the poor families would have been anyways. I thought this was a fascinating opinion, although Wingate didn’t explore it very extensively in the novel. I think it’s a question that is still relevant today. Do poor parents not deserve the right to raise their own children just because someone else could better financially provide for their children? Is money all that matters when it comes to raising a child? What is the long term impact on a child who has been stolen away from their biological parents, whether they can remember it or not?

It was a really interesting story and I did find myself engrossed in both May’s story and Avery’s story. Audiobooks aren’t my favourite way to read because I find they are very exposing of an author’s writing, which can sometimes detract from the story. Like I said, this still had some cliche writing, but overall, I did like this book and was fascinated by the piece of history that it exposed.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Wayne Johnston
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

Where to start? This was a very long book that took a lot of motivation to pick up off my shelf, but that I ended up having a lot of opinions about. I was worried that it was going to be really dense, but fortunately, it turned out to be a very well written and engaging book about Newfoundland.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is historical fiction about Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first premier who helped to usher Newfoundland into confederation with Canada. He is both a well liked and disliked premier, depending on who you talk to. Johnston definitely takes a lot of liberties with Smallwood’s character in this novel, but the story is still pretty accurately based on his life in terms of what he accomplished.

The story starts with Smallwood as a child in the early 1900’s. His family were shoe salesmen in St. John’s and he lived up on the Brow looking over the Harbour until his uncle decided to pay to send him to Bishop Feild, the prestigious boy’s boarding school of the day. At Bishop Feild, he meets Prowse, grandson of a noted historian, and Fielding, a girl who attends the nearby sister school, Bishop Spencer.

Fielding is the other main character in this story and unlike Smallwood, her character is completely fabricated. Fielding has a cane, walks with a limp, has a wry sense of humour, with sarcasm and irony being her preferred mediums. She’s a bit of an outcast who goes on to work as a reporter for The Telegram, publishing critical articles about all branches and parties of the government. Fielding marches to the beat of her own drum and I really liked her. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and I loved her sense of humour.

This book actually had a lot more humour in it than I was expecting and it had me laughing out loud early in the novel. Below is one of my favourite quotes from the book, which is an argument Smallwood has with his mother, and had me laughing because I also grew up in St. John’s while my parents grew up in rural outport communities. This is pretty much the exact same thing my parents would say to me growing up and the biggest way you could offend my parents would be to call them townies.

“I’m a Newfoundlander, but not St. John’s born, no, not St. John’s born,” he said.
“You’re a bayman and you always will be,” my mother said.

I’ve been living on the West Coast for the last 4 years, so this was super nostalgic for me. Wayne Johnston is not even describing my St. John’s in this novel because it’s set between 1900 and 1950, but there’s something really special about still being able to vividly picture the setting of a story, especially when it’s a place like Newfoundland, which I hold so special in my heart.

I didn’t love Joe Smallwood’s character, but I did like the writing. This was one of my monthly challenge books and I’m glad I challenged myself to read it because I probably never would have gotten around to it otherwise. Johnston does a really great job with the setting. I don’t know how non-Newfoundlanders might feel about this book, but I loved the setting and the atmosphere Johnston created. Especially towards the end when we finally get to the whole business of confederation and the end of independence. I felt like Johnston did a good job of not taking a side and presenting both sides of the story. It really makes you reflect on what Newfoundland gained, what it lost, and what may or may not have been.

I read Greg Malone’s Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders several years ago and I felt that this book was a good contrast to that. Greg Malone is very clearly anti-confederation, as well as a bit of a conspiracy theorist. While I really liked Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders, because it has some great history in it and I learned a lot, it is very speculative and I liked that Wayne Johnston presented a more balanced version of history and I feel he left his personal feelings out of it.

For those of you not well versed in Newfoundland’s history, we we’re an independent country up until 1933 when we had a commission of government forced on us by the British as a result of our war debt (even though A LOT of Newfoundlanders lost their lives fighting for Great Britain in WWI – I am a little bitter, yes). I’ve written an entire blog post about Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders if you’re interested in our fascinating history (to me anyways), but basically we were supposed to get back our independence when we became self-sustaining once more, which we did after WWII. However, instead of just turning governance back over to Newfoundland, it was decided to hold a referendum to let the people choose if they wanted to join Canada instead.

Joe Smallwood wanted nothing more than to do something for which he would be remembered. He dropped out of Bishop Feild and failed at making a life for himself in New York, so he was desperate to have an influence in Newfoundland’s future. He was an avid socialist in his youth, but upon realizing that Newfoundlanders were never going to buy into socialism, he turned his talents to the Liberal government. He helped former Prime Minister Sir Richard Squires with his re-election campaign in hopes of winning the nomination to run himself, but he is jilted by Squires again and again and struggles to get into politics.

In this novel, he is a huge supporter of unions, walking across the entire provincial railroad line to start a rail-workers union, and he later travels all around Newfoundland’s most remote islands, trying to start a fisherman’s union. This really gave me an appreciation for how Smallwood became so popular and influential and why he supported Confederation. He really cared about Newfoundlanders and he spent an inordinate amount of time speaking with the poor throughout his life. He was also the host of a popular radio show that focused on sharing stories of Newfoundland and about Newfoundlanders.

The fisherman were not nationalists of any sort…They would vote for Confederation to get the mother’s allowance and would live by Confederation exactly as they had before…They had starved through a depression that had ended when the war began. Now, they were terrified that another decade like the thirties was on its way.

The crowd from St. John’s, the merchants and the wealthy, were all big supporters of independence. But Smallwood understood from his travels around Newfoundland that the majority of Newfoundlanders were poor fisherman, struggling to keep food on the table. They didn’t care about the government of the day and it rarely affected them. Confederation wouldn’t really change anything for them, except they’d be able to profit from access to Canada’s established public services.

The anti-confederates must have wondered how they lost…They had been to London and they had been to New York, but they had never been to Bonavista or La Poile, and that was why they lost.

Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders leaves you feeling angry and riled up, but The Colony of Unrequited Dreams gave me an appreciation of what it was really like for Newfoundlanders. Forget the politics and the conspiracies, rural fishermen just wanted to catch a break and this was something I never really understood before. Yet Johnston still presents the other side of the story and makes you feel very nostalgic for what might have been. Personally, I wish we could have seen what might have been had we re-gained our independence, but I do also think it’s likely that we might have ended up joining Canada anyways and I’m proud to be both a Newfoundlander and a Canadian. I think this must be one of the reasons why Newfoundlanders always retain such a keen sense of home no matter where they go. There is something unique about Newfoundland culture that does not come from Canada because we have not always been Canadian.

The ending of this book was heartbreaking for me though. I was a little bit disappointed that Johnston chose to end this book about Fielding. I really liked her, but as a fictional character, I don’t think her story was quite as powerful and it felt very anti-climatic to suddenly jump back into Fielding’s past.

“You all but gave away Churchill Falls, which you had hoped would crown your career as Confederation had crowned Mackenzie King’s”

Johnston touches very briefly on Churchill Falls and I wish he’d explored it more. If this book had been written 10 years later, I’m sure he would have because the Lower Churchill is such a hot topic in Newfoundland right now. But I found this so heartbreaking because Churchill Falls was meant to be Smallwood’s swan song – his legacy – and instead it turned out to be one of the worst deals every made and a real sore spot for Newfoundlanders. Smallwood did not have a successful start as Premier and Johnston portrays him running out of time in office and chasing after Churchill Falls as his last chance to see Newfoundland transformed.

That said, my favourite part of this book is easily the way Johnston writes about Newfoundland. You can tell he has a great love and reverence for the island. I’m sure any Newfoundlander can relate as there’s just something that makes Newfoundlanders have this deep attachment to their homeland. She’s a rocky isle in the ocean, and she’s pounded by winds from the sea, but you just can’t help but love her ruggedness and her people. Smallwood was relentless and he really did want to do something good for Newfoundland. His whole life was dedicated to making Newfoundlander better and I do really think he cared about the poor Newfoundlanders and that they are what ultimately motivated him to chase after confederation.

I have often thought of that train hurtling down the Bonavista like the victory express. And all around it the northern night, the barrens, the bogs, the rocks and ponds and hills of Newfoundland. The Straits of Belle Isle, from the island side of which I have seen the coast of Labrador.
These things, finally, primarily, are Newfoundland.
From a mind divesting itself of images, those of the land would be the last to go.
We are a people on whose mind these images have been imprinted.
We are a people in whose bodies old sea-seeking rivers roar with blood.

The Boat People

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Sharon Bala
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

Oh my goodness, I feel like this book took forever to finish! Between going on a ski trip last weekend and the Olympics stealing all of my attention, it took me a bit longer than anticipated to get through The Boat People. But I finally finished!

This was the first book of my February Reading Challenge and I am a little concerned I might not fit them all in this month because I am just completely obsessed with the Olympics! This month I challenged myself to read 3 books about Canada and this was my pick from the Canada Reads 2018 shortlist.

The Boat People is written by Sharon Bala, who fascinatingly was born in Dubai, raised in Ontario, and currently lives in Newfoundland, and it’s about a ship full of refugees from Sri Lanka who landed on Vancouver’s shores in 2010. It was a bit of a thrill to read a book about the place where I currently live, as I don’t read that much Canadian literature, and this was a fascinating bit of history about an event I knew shockingly nothing about.

Sri Lanka has been torn apart by war for decades, driving many people to desperation to escape the violence in any way they can. These 492 Sri Lankan’s board a cargo ship bound for Canada in an effort to seek out a better life. Fortunately everyone survives the journey and they are thrilled when they first see the coast of Vancouver Island, but the welcome party is cut short when they are promptly separated and detained in two prisons while the government fumbles to try and decide what to do about them.

I knew very little about the process for migrants who show up un-announced at the border and this was very eye-opening. Refugees must first seek permission to request asylum and then go through admissibility hearings for their request to be granted. In this case, the government was worried about terrorists being on board and wanted to delay the process as much as possible to assuage the public’s fears. The adjudicators had very little information to go on outside of the refugee’s testimony and because the government wanted to delay the process to dissuade copycat voyages, the refugees were forced to remain in these detainment prisons for months while their hearings were repeatedly denied and postponed.

I did struggle a bit with this book as there’s a lot of legalese in it, a lot of (slightly confusing) Sri Lankan history, and a lot of character names and stories that I struggled to keep straight, but I really liked how Bala wrote this book and she was not shy in tackling a lot of different issues.

The story is told from 3 perspectives: Mahindan, a single father who made the journey from Sri Lanka with his 6-year old son Sellian; Priya, an articling student (of Sri Lankan heritage) who’s firm takes on 5 refugee cases pro bono and has her help out on the cases; and Grace, an adjudicator (of japanese heritage) who is assigned by the xenophobic Minister of Immigration to adjudicate the detainment hearings.

This is a morally-gray book and I appreciated Bala for not making this a straight-forward morality tale. She tackles so many issues in this book; the xenophobia of the Canadian public, the refugee diaspora, the immigration process, Canada’s past failings, the importance of history and remembrance, reconciliation, culture shock, and the list goes on.

The novel first presents us with the refugees, ecstatic to arrive on Canada’s shores, and the brutality of their arrival and immediate imprisonment. In my opinion, you can’t help but empathize with them and think the government harsh. But then Bala gets into the morally gray areas of war and how good and innocent people can be forced and coerced into participating in what western countries view as terrorist organizations.

Are we right to studiously evaluate every refugee who comes into Canada for terrorist affiliation? I think yes, but do we need to steal their humanity from them in the process? No. Do we have the right to deport people when deportation will mean certain torture and death? People may be split on that opinion, but it’s a question that requires empathy and understanding that we will never have by “othering” people and fearing them.

Innocent people are forced to do bad things in wartime, but how to we evaluate those acts and decide if the intent was forced or malicious? What’s direct involvement in acts of “terrorism” and what’s proximate? These are impossible questions to answer and as much as I often disliked Grace’s line of thinking, I could appreciate the pressure that was put on her in these quasi-legal proceedings. All she has to go on is the migrant’s story and how is she to know what is truth? That said, she was an adjudicator appointed by the government in power, which begs the question if she should have the power to make those decisions at all.

However, I liked the contrast of Grace’s story and how Bala demonstrates how cyclical history can be. Grace is the grand-daughter of Japanese immigrants and takes a hard line on border safety and who should be permitted to enter Canada. She is determined to safeguard her daughters freedom to move around without fear, while at the same time struggling with her mother’s declining health. Her mother, Kumi, has Alzheimer’s and is slowly regressing into the past. Her parents had been interned during WWII and lost everything. They never spoke up about the injustice and kept their heads down to give their children a chance to become “true” Canadians. However, now she worries that the apathy of her parents has been passed down to her daughter and grandchildren and that Grace has forgotten the injustices of the past, perpetuating the cycle of oppression.

I thought it was an interesting theme on how people who were once oppressed and othered can learn to be oppressors themselves. And on how important reconciliation is, not just for righting our wrongs, but for protecting against repeating them, to keep fresh an empathy for others.

So while I did feel like it took me forever to get through this book, it was worth it. The Boat People made me think a lot and while it definitely was more ‘liberal-leaning’, it wasn’t a straight forward good vs evil narrative. It’s complex, gritty, and heartbreaking. A fabulous and meaningful debut for a Canadian author.

Pachinko

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Min Jin Lee
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

It feels like I’ve been working on Pachinko for ages, but I finally finished it. I flew through several books at the beginning of the year, but it was nice to settle down with this one, which is definitely an epic and had a lot of depth.

If you’ve been following along, I decided to read 3 books about immigration for my January Challenge and Pachinko was my second selection. I read Girl in Translation earlier this month and loved it. I picked Pachinko because it’s been getting rave reviews and it’s one of the few books I found about immigration that wasn’t a story about immigrating to America.

Pachinko begins in Korea in 1910 and takes us on a journey with 4 generations of the same family as they are forced to leave their ancestral home and build a life for themselves in Japan. This was a great history lesson and I learned a lot about both Korea and Japan and the touchy relationship between the two. Korea was colonized by Japan between 1910 and 1945 and split into North and South Korea after the second world war.

The story starts with Sunja and her parents, Hoonie and Yangjin, who run a boarding house in the small town of Yeoungdo in southern Korea. Sunja falls for a wealthy Korean visiting from Japan and becomes pregnant. Fortunately, one of their boarders, a young christian minister Isak, feels led to marry Sunja to save her from the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock and so that her child might take his name. Isak had been on his way to Japan for an appointment with a church when he stopped at the boarding house and they marry and Sunja accompanies him to Japan.

Relations between Japanese and Koreans were not good at this time and there is a lot of racism against the Koreans. The Japanese believe themselves to be the ruling class and think of Koreans as dirty and stupid. Sunja faces a lot of challenges living in Japan and the novel takes us though 80 years of history through Sunja’s children and grandchildren.

This is definitely not a fast read, but it is very impressive in it’s scope. I haven’t read a lot of historical epics (Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants trilogy is the only other one that comes to mind) and at times Pachinko felt very slow moving, while at other times I was really into it and wanted to know what would happen next. With 4 generations, we inevitably experience many deaths in this book and some of them were actually quite shocking and emotional!

There are so many great themes in this book. I loved Sunja and Kyunghee’s characters and their experiences as women and with motherhood. Lee continuously explores women’s roles throughout the novel and the expectation that a woman’s lot in life is to suffer. Their husbands and family were everything to Sunja and Kyunghee and it never occurred to them to seek happiness for themselves outside of their family. They both had dreams for their lives, yet they were always secondary to the dreams of the men. With each new generation it was interesting to see how women’s roles would change and I enjoyed when Sunja starts to question what her life might have been or could be now if she had made other choices.

The familial relationships in the story are heartbreaking. There’s so many different relationships presented in this book and they were all very beautifully written (although sometimes tragic). This family is tried again and again. They all suffered an enormous amount as Koreans, but their tenacity was inspiring in what they were able to accomplish. I really liked Kyunghee and Kim and I was really intrigued about what happened to the Koreans who returned to North Korea after the war. Lee leaves us with quite a lot of unanswered questions, but I think this is very much indicative of the relationship between Japan and Korea. North Korea was very much a big black box and you never knew what happened there. Many Koreans had to live their entire lives without ever finding out what had become of their friends and family.

I liked Mozasu’s story with the Pachinko parlours as well and I loved the themes Lee tied in with the parlours. So many Koreans were trapped in a cycle of poverty in Japan. They were 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants who had come to the land of their colonizers in search of prosperity and were then later emancipated from their homeland. It was so hard for Koreans to succeed in Japan and they were always looked down upon, yet there was nothing in Korea for them to go back to.  Pachinko parlours are gambling dens where you can play these pinball-like machines in hopes of winning. Because of the gambling, parlour owners were often mixed up in dark criminal underworld and linked with the Yakuza, the Korean gangsters. I liked that despite being rough around the edges growing up, Mozasu was able to discover who he really was in the Pachinko parlours and become an honest man, despite how easy it would have been to become corrupted.

“Every morning, Mozasu and his men tinkered with the machines to fix the outcomes – there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones. How could you get angry at the ones who wanted to be in the game? Etsuko had failed in this important way – she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not.”

As a book about immigration, Pachinko was fantastic. There are so many thoughtful nuggets of information and shared experiences about immigration in this book. I was particularly moved when Mozasu had to take Solomon on his 14th birthday to get his fingerprints taken and get his documentation card so that he could remain in Japan. Even though he and his son had both been born in Japan, they were forced to renew their identity cards every 3 years and could potentially be deported to South Korea – a country neither of them had ever known. This is so relevant to what’s happening all over the world with white people spewing hate at immigrants that have been living and contributing to their countries and economies for years.

I’ll finish with a quote from Solomon towards the end of the novel which I loved for it’s hopefulness despite the decades of discrimination his family had experienced. I appreciated the relationships Lee built between the Koreans and the Japanese, to remind her readers that we are all just people. There are good actions and their are bad actions, but we are each our own and we can each actively make the decision to accept and support each other, rather than hate.

“Kazu was a shit, but so what? He was one bad guy, and he was Japanese… Even if there were a hundred bad Japanese, if there was one good one, he refused to make a blanket statement. Etsuko was like a mother to him; his first love was Hana; and Totoyama was like an uncle, too. They were Japanese, and they were very good.”