The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
A tiny gardener inspiring a child-sized gardener to plant and care for flowers in the space around their home. Rich and full illustrations tell the story of life in a garden. Very nice.
The Big Book of Slumber by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, translated by Antony ShugaarSo I wanted to really like this, especially since Alicia from Posie Gets Cozy mentioned it, but the translated rhymes didn't work very well on some of the pages, although the illustrations captured the imagination. Alright, but not great, in my opinion.
Witness by Whittaker Chambers
I cannot do this book justice in this space, but I am so thankful to have read it, not just for the information, but also for the tremendous spirit displayed in this memoir. Mr. Whittaker Chambers first became an open Communist Party member around 1924-25. He wrote for several Communist newspapers before being recruited to join the underground Communist Party and eventually a Soviet secret agent, I believe. By 1937-38, he wanted out. This is his story of his life.
It is 800 pages and took me the whole month of January, but I persevered through some of the tedious details and names to find many passages that spoke directly to my soul. I'm not very well read, but if I had one of those lists of the best 100 books that everyone should read or books that I would take to a desert island, this would be on it, right near the top.
Without You, There is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim
The following is from my review that I wrote on Goodreads.
This is the first book I have ever read on North Korea, so my review reflects that. I first encountered the idea of the book in an article I read by the author which intrigued me about the book. After waiting months in the library queue, my turn came with the book. I didn't realize that the author had been allowed in to teach at this elite school under the guise of being a Christian missionary. More on that deception later.
Her derision of Christianity is evident, even the mystical brand of Christianity she recounts from her fellow teachers which not all Christians are comfortable with, myself included. But when she recounts coming away from a staff worship service discussing how interchangeable the words 'Jesus' and 'Great Leader' could be in the Christian hymns, you know she questions the validity of the claims of Christianity, not the other way around.
Although earlier in her book, she had noted that North Koreans do consider their leaders to be gods, so her observations about Christian hymns seems silly at that point. "We all believe what we want to believe," she concludes. Her religious background is Confucianism, but the only reference she makes to her adherence is a trip she remembers making on behalf of her father to tend the ancestral gravestones in South Korea.
Other reviewers have mentioned her obsession with writing about her love life with deliberate vagueness, yet her habitual use of the term lover to describe the person she writes to while teaching seems pathetic since she openly admits he doesn't love her. Strange relationship, and even stranger that she spends so much time discussing it. Perhaps that just shows how solitary and insular life becomes for those who spend any amount of time there. I don't know.
I mentioned earlier that she knowingly deceives her co-workers on her religious beliefs, apparently even taking Communion during their secret worship services, which becomes a bit of blow-up when she is confronted about that practice by one of her co-teachers and friends. The deception is interesting because she notes that one of the things that becomes hard to abide is the outright lying she knows her students incessantly participate in during her conversations with them. She views them as her children at times, but struggles with her affection with them because of their habitual and even unnecessary dishonesty. She realizes that this is the environment with which they have been raised and trained in, so she gives them a pass. But what of her own deception of which she knows is wrong? It is justified evidently by her desire to use her gathered notes to write this book which lets the outside world know what North Korean culture is like. She admits in the closing paragraphs of her memoir, that the publishing of the book will hurt the staff of the school, but does not appear to be bothered much by it.
I did find the book interesting because of the descriptions of North and South Korea she provides and the conversations she has, plus her insider knowledge of Korean culture and history is interesting. I would have to read other books on North Korea before I could truly say if I recommend this one or not. I read it in 24 hours after bringing it home from the library, so I can say that I was compelled to read the book. That's something.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos
I have written a post about our story discussion experience here and posted our subsequent essays here, so I won't repeat myself. This book proved to be full of interesting details and have many threads of insights tied up into the plot. We discussed the possibility of Erik, the Phantom impersonating The Angel of Music and the idea that Angel implies a minister of good, not evil. Seth also noted that the phantom is a ghost, yet also appears to be human who is susceptible to death. And in his essay, he discusses the idea of Erik living under the opera as a possible symbol of the Underworld. I'm glad we both read it and took the time to explore the story using our Lost Tools of Writing program which has been extremely valuable.