December 27th, 2017

the five best books I read in 2017.

I picked up Hot Milk because I always try to read a bit of the Man Booker longlist. I’d heard very little about it and (rather unexpectedly) fell in love with this book. It had such a dreamlike quality and was cast with a host of mostly unlikeable characters. But the prose was what really drew me in. Beautiful and strange — recommend!

I read Strange Weather in Tokyo, not knowing it was The Briefcase (as published in the US) — I am glad I read this version, I prefer the title and the cover. This book is one of the most poignant and tender I’ve ever read. There is no plot, not much happens, it’s mostly a character study — which I happen to love. Everything in it is utterly insignificant, but layered with such a veneer of significance that the mundane entirely shifts meaning. Essentially, it’s a story about two mismatched people being drawn to one another, despite an age difference and cultural norms. In fact, based on all the Japanese literature I’ve read, Tsukiko is the least traditional female I’ve discovered. I found myself empathizing a lot with her, perhaps too much, actually.

The evocative descriptions of place and food are also enough to make me want to re-read the entire novel again

I picked up this book at random while browsing in a local bookstore — I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful cover and summary blurb. “This sounds like something I will like!” And I was right. I have to say, I’m glad I discovered it on my own because it was devoid of hype and expectation. This is a quiet book that deserves a subtle, solitary discovery. I’ve seen many people refer to this book as a collection of short stories, but I read it more as a stream-of-consciousness narrative, something akin to post-modern Virginia Woolf rather than a collection of separate pieces. It often seemed as if the words were appearing right before my eyes, that I was reading the author’s immediate thoughts as she was thinking them — a collection of musings based in the seemingly banal moments that constitute a day: fruit on the windowsill, green fountain pen ink, a walk in the fog. This book is not for everyone, but the poetic prose and small vignettes were near perfection to me. A balm for the soul.

This book was a sleeper hit for me. When I first picked it up, I was expecting an Elizabeth Taylor-esque tell-all type story — but it was so much more than that. Although, I thought the author got off to a rather shaky start with the split narration, once the narrative was flowing, I could NOT tear myself away. Evelyn Hugo is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in recent memory. I loved every second of this glamorous, scandalous, addicting page-turner.

Pachinko is a multi-generational novel (spanning 4 generations and 80 years), that tells the story of a family’s harrowing journey from South Korea to Japan and their struggles to survive as anything other than second-class citizens. There is a lot of impeccably rendered history and carefully sculpted moments of intense emotion. The narrative structure itself was a bit choppy in parts and some of the characters simply fall away as the years wear on (also, I could see how the cover might be off putting to some readers) but, at its core, this is an engrossing and breathtaking piece of historical fiction.