Category Archives: Favorite authors

The Living Reed

It is our fate, lying as we do between many powers, to be influenced to an extent by all and many. It is our task to accept and reject, to weld and mingle and out of our many factions to create ourselves, the One, an independent nation.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is elegant, and she’s a consummate storyteller. With my new fascination with all things Korea, I was particularly interested in reading her novel, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. It has taken me awhile to read it because I’m much slower reading actual books these days (eye fatigue) and it was not available on audiobook. But I’m glad I stuck with it, reading a little bit each day, and therefore enjoying it even more than if I had rushed through it.

from the publisher:

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.

As the chronicle begins, the Kims are living comfortably as advisors to the Korean royal family. But that world is torn apart with the Japanese invasion, when the queen is killed and the Kims are thrust into hiding. Through their story, Buck traces the country’s journey from the late nineteenth century through the end of the Second World War.

The story begins with Il-han, scholar and advisor to the queen. In order to be a better advisor, he leaves his family and travels around Korea. Throughout his travels, he finds a deep love for his country and his people.

With what words shall a man tell of love for his country? Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, Il-han was conceived in the earth of his native land. His ancestors had created him through their life. The air they breathed, the waters they drank, the fruits they ate, belonged to the earth and from their dust he was born.

…He went his way swiftly then, content to do so as he perceived each day now fully the quality of his people. They were brave, they were strong, enduring hardship not only with courage but with a noble gaiety. Expecting nothing either of gods or rulers, they were grateful for small good fortune. Their strength was in themselves and in one another. They could be cruel and they were kind. They fought nature in storm and cold and under bleak skies, but they fought side by side and together. He loved them.

His sons become the next focus of the story, and their story is of the transition from the brutal ending of the Joseon period through invasion by the Japanese. Despite rebellion and revolution, the new order in the 1900s became a long occupation and suppression of the Korean culture. My husband and I had recently watched the Korean drama, Mr. Sunshine, which takes place during this transition time in Korea. It is a series (on Netflix) well worth watching — beautifully written and filmed! It provided a wonderful visual understanding of that tumultuous period of time, and went beautifully with Ms. Buck’s epic story.

The surviving son of Il-han became a revolutionary, and his story, and the story of his son, takes us through the Second World War, with all the complexities of the struggle for Korean independence. A conversation between the old scholar and his son best described the strength of the Korean people over time, and why they survived continual invasion and oppression by the surrounding countries.

“I remember the day my brother was born, and I broke the bamboo shoots, and you told me they would never come up again. You were right, of course, those broken shoots did not grow again. Hollow reeds, you called them. I felt my heart ready to break at what I had done. But then you told me that other reeds would come up to take their place. And every spring I went to the bamboo grove to see if what you said was true. It was always true.”

…“What do you tell me?” Il-han demanded. “This,” Yul-chun said, “that if you never see me again, or never hear my name again, remember—I am only a hollow reed. Yet if I am broken, hundreds take my place—living reeds!”

This book was truly an epic story, and knowing very little about Korean history, I enjoyed learning about it through Pearl Buck’s research and insightful understanding of the culture and character of the Korean people.

This book was one of my choices on my list of 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club. It is also part of my personal challenge to read the works of Pearl Buck. And it add to my education about Korea!

Currently Reading: The Living Reed

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.”

I am completely caught up in Pearl S. Buck’s, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. Her writing is so elegant, and her storytelling carries you away. That’s why I love reading her novels.

My One-Book Readathon

“Fear was the scariest of emotions and it nestled there, growing ever stronger and sprouting shoots, a seed in the fertile soil of doubt.”

Usually, my participation in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is theme-based and full of books. This time, however, I had my first one-book readathon. I simply spent the day reading Jacqueline Winspear’s latest book in her Maisie Dobbs series, The Consequences of Fear. It was a great way to spend my day, and after a very busy week, I enjoyed my rainy day readathon reading!

From the publisher:

October 1941. While on a delivery, young Freddie Hackett, a message runner for a government office, witnesses an argument that ends in murder. Crouching in the doorway of a bombed-out house, Freddie waits until the coast is clear. But when he arrives at the delivery address, he’s shocked to come face to face with the killer.

Dismissed by the police when he attempts to report the crime, Freddie goes in search of a woman he once met when delivering a message: Maisie Dobbs. While Maisie believes the boy and wants to help, she must maintain extreme caution: she’s working secretly for the Special Operations Executive, assessing candidates for crucial work with the French resistance. Her two worlds collide when she spots the killer in a place she least expects. She soon realizes she’s been pulled into the orbit of a man who has his own reasons to kill—reasons that go back to the last war.

One of the things I enjoy so much about Jacqueline Winspear’s series is that each book is equally compelling and fun to read. I might be able to pick out a favorite, but mostly the series is just really consistent and even. This latest volume didn’t disappoint and kept me reading on and on.

Another thing I enjoy about this series is the growth and changes in the main characters over time. The characters have become my friends, and I care about them. I also love Maisie’s insights and intuitions. She’s a trained professional psychologist, and combined with her empathy and life experience, she’s a compassionate investigator, and her insatiable curiosity and questioning mind leads her to solve the most baffling cases.

“Truth walks towards us on the paths of our questions.” [Dr. Maurice Blanche]”
~ quote from Maisie Dobbs, the first book in the series

Although I stayed up late last night to finish the book, today I am feeling a satisfied tired — the aftermath of a successful readathon!  And I am already looking forward to another Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon in the Fall.

Rainer Maria Rilke: Thoughts on Marriage

52 years and cherishing every moment…

I recently read Letters to a Young Poet, by the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and found it full of warmth and wisdom. I was particularly touched by his thoughts on marriage that were included in one of the ten letters he wrote the young poet. After 52 years of marriage, I thought he eloquently expressed our own truth.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish

During the quarantine, I started rereading Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series, a cozy mystery series I enjoyed reading many years ago. Mrs. Pollifax is an elderly lady who got bored with her orderly life of garden groups and tea with friends, and decides to join the CIA and do something more exciting with her life. Most people don’t get hired by the CIA by walking in and offering their services, but by a twist of fate, that’s what happened. Mrs. Pollifax, with her keen intelligence, little-old-lady look, and top form karate skills is the perfect spy!

In this 9th book in the series, Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, she is called on to travel to Morocco.

From the publisher:

All Mrs. Pollifax has to do is to masquerade as the aunt of an inept CIA representative while he confirms the identities of seven undercover agents in Morocco—and keep him from making an unpleasant ass of himself. Immediately, things go horribly wrong. The first informant is murdered minutes after Mrs. Pollifax and her companion identify him in his brassware stall in Fez. Worse, she senses that her colleague is not who—or what—he says he is.

As in all the Mrs. Pollifax books, author Dorothy Gilman sends her character into different cultures and situations. We travel along to learn a little about each culture, and the respectful research done into each of them always makes for an enjoyable journey. These books are just plain fun, and they are extra fun when you listen to the audiobook version, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat!

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a story that takes place in Morocco.

Most Secret

I am such a Nevil Shute fan! He was a wonderful storyteller/writer, and his books always completely immerse me in another life and time. Most Secret is the 17th book I’ve read by him. I’m slowing working my way through all his works, and it’s a fun project. And since today is his birthday, I celebrate him by sharing this review with you.  But to start, I’ve copied this short biography for you from the Powell’s Books website:

NEVIL SHUTE NORWAY was born on January 17, 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on January 12, 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

Most Secret, from the publisher:

In their trusty fishing boat, Genevieve, armed with only a flame thrower and limited ammunition, a small group of officers and men take a stand against the might of the German army after the fall of France in World War II.

What armament would you propose to give her for the job?” He said: “A flame-thrower—one of the big ones. A flame-thrower and a few Tommy-guns.”

…I paused before replying, wondering how to put it when I saw him. I had to tell my admiral that the Army had proposed a naval expedition, to be commanded by a pseudo-Army officer of curious past history, sailing in a fishing-boat manned principally by foreigners, armed with an unconventional and utterly disgusting weapon, with the object of stiffening morale over on the other side. It was certainly an unusual proposal.

The Germans had used flame throwers during the war, but the British had never used them. The men of this ragtag crew, each with his own backstory which led him to this historic mission, all had reasons to embrace this unusual idea of a young man who desperately wanted to make a difference in the war effort. As usual, Nevil Shute took his time telling this story, carefully building the backgrounds of each character so that we would understand them well at that significant moment in history. It’s a story that shows what a difference one person, or each person, can make in any given circumstance, especially during war. I found it fascinating!