My International Shelf: Exploring East Asia
By Laura Hasson
Welcome to the ‘My International Shelf’ Series, a new feature exploring the unique combination of books that fill our guests' shelves. In this, the first week of ‘My International Shelf’, I thought it would be fun to introduce my 'shelf' (pun intended). I'm sharing books to anyone looking to begin their journey into East Asian Fiction.
Why East Asian Fiction?
I've been a kpop, anime and manga fan since 2005, if you want a place to start for either, Monsta X, Super Junior and Fushigi Yuugi are my ultimate favourites! These musicians and stories led me to some of my favourite books on East Asian mythology. It is fascinating to me.
How do you pick a book?
Cover design and typography are elements of book production I'm often drawn to, and if the edges are sprayed, I will probably buy it before even reading the blurb! A book exploring mythology intervention or a mythology I've not read about before also grabs my attention.
Nice to (virtually) meet you all, enjoy my shelf picks!
The Girl Who Kept Winter by Gaio Chi (Vietnam)
Originally titled, Tuyết Đen in Vietnamese, this YA is an interesting, fast paced story that is engaging and thought provoking. It is a wonderful starting point for East Asian mythology and embracing the importance and beauty of martial arts in a story. I found it completely absorbing for my first fantasy book based around martial arts.
Through its characters, dialogue and the hard work of both the author and translators to bring The Girl Who Kept Winter to English speaking readers, this is a story I would recommend to anyone looking for that first dip into translated fiction novels.
Dong Tu and Obsidian are somewhat star-crossed, truly bemused lovers-to-be. However, what is refreshing about this love story is that their romance is never all the characters are, they are well-rounded people. For example, the Poison King, who is Obsidian, has dreams but he is flawed and faces consequences as the story progresses. Joined by a whole host of fascinating secondary characters, Dong Tu's sister and the mysterious Switch who are my personal favourites, utterly fill the pages with life and just a little chaos, makes this a brilliant read.
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah (South Korea)
This novel drew me in at first because of its powerful cover design. However, the story transported me to an interesting, contemporary world exploring logic and dreams. Wonderfully translated to capture the vivid and magical realism of the original tale and voice, Untold Night and Day follows Ayami, a recently unemployed 28-year-old, who we explore with the mesmerizing muggy summer streets of Seoul.
Set over one day and one night, the story is, to me, almost like a music score. It flows from one act to the next, climaxing in a startling mixture of imagery, rich observations and the juxtaposition of reality and imaginary within our minds. It is an interesting translation novel. The recurring motifs, observations of Korean culture and the way we can all slip from dreams to reality makes this short but effecting novel a great dive into surrealism from an international perspective.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Japan)
This novel is one of my favourite time travel stories. Gorgeously written, this character-driven tale is expertly conveyed. Kawaguchi's use of the concept "what would you do if you could visit the past" is masterfully explored through simple, yet power and captivating, language.
As it is a translation novel, it is important to remember some of the nuance may not have been translated perfectly. Some of the scenes make you feel like you are reading a theatre script. However, if you let the occasional jarring phrase slide past you, this café-based tale will leave you eager to have a cup of coffee and go and hug your loved ones for a moment.
The characters are utterly unique, and brilliantly written with heart-breaking honesty. Personally, I like dialogue-focused books and Before the Coffee Gets Cold fits into this category. I found the different characters engaging and their perspective of Japan was interesting. I have visited Japan myself and I loved the language used as it evoked many memories of my own in this dynamic, complex country; which is why this book is on my shelf.
Welcome to this new series and join us next week as we explore another shelf. Happy Reading Everyone!