March was a great month in reading. I read Slavenka Drakulić’s 1992 book of essays, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. Drakulić grew up and lived in what is now Croatia, formerly part of Yugoslavia. Her essays detail and reflect upon daily life – particularly women’s daily life – under Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, behind the Iron Curtain. It’s a snapshot of history, but more than that it’s a reflection of the intersection between the personal and the political.
But communism created this lack of any kind of privacy – in crowded communal apartments; in its morals, where everybody was comrade to everybody else; in the Communist Party, where every member watched over the ‘correct’ life of the others – because only when there is no privacy can there be total control. p71
The state wants it all public – it can’t see into our apartment, but it can tap our telephone, read our mail. We didn’t give up: everything beyond the door was considered ‘theirs.’ They wanted to turn our apartments into public spaces, but we didn’t buy that trick. What is public is of the enemy. So we hid in our pigeonholes, leaned on each other in spite of everything, and licked our wounds. p91-92
In one of her last essays, she writes of the war that has just begin in the former Yugoslav states. After the fall of Communism, the wounds from World War II resurface and everyone is at each other’s throats. War is approaching Drakulić’s city and she writes of her fear:
No thoughts, no movements, nothing but this crystal moment of pure fear shining inside you. It’s not the fear of death but of planned death, death invented in someone’s head, death as a statistical number, a mass death in a deadly game of power. p. 177
I finished Min Jin Lee’s excellent family saga Pachinko. I loved the characters, particularly Sunja and everyone from her generation. The story is about a Korean family living in Japan from the 1930s to the 1980s. They moved to and stayed in Japan for the future of their children, as Japan sucked out the life of their native land. The Japanese government and society treated them like second-class citizens, but Korea was no longer their home either. I appreciate that Lee’s story doesn’t downplay the effect of these oppressive societal forces on the characters’ emotional health and success. Systemic injustice is not an external force that can be overcome by pluck and will. Insidiously, it worms its destructive way into the characters’ heads and hearts as well.
I loved how Min Jin Lee wrote about people. Particularly with the earlier generations, she is able to write about the kindness and love of people in a way that moved me to tears several times.
I put down Michael Waldman’s book The Second Amendment a couple of weeks ago. What I read was good, but it is very focused on the detailed Constitutional history behind the amendment. After the energy of attending March for Our Lives in D.C., this book just didn’t feel like the right book to match the current moment for me. I just bought Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge. The ebook was on sale and it’s been on my to-read list since before it was published. Younge’s book tells the stories of ten American children and teens who lost their lives to gun violence on November 23, 2013. At the March for Our Lives, one girl from Chicago told the story of a man waving a gun in her face at a convenience store. Another teen from D.C. told the story of his twin brother’s murder. Younge’s book sounds like it will be tough, but like the March, it is focused on telling the stories of individual lives cut short by gun violence.
My escape reading was Mary Balogh’s Irresistible. It was a sweet friends-to-lovers romance. I was also a fan of Balogh’s The Escape and A Summer to Remember, so she’s likely to stay on my reading radar.
I’m almost finished with Rachel Pearson’s No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming of Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine. It is very well-written (Pearson pursued an MFA before quitting to pursue her medical career). Medical students learn their skills on the bodies of the poor and the imprisoned, and Pearson grapples with this reality throughout the book in a nuanced way.
I am also in the middle of Seanan McGuire’s Rosemary and Rue. My friend Cindy’s been a fan of this urban fantasy series for a while, and I’ve heard good things from others. I like that it’s set in San Francisco, and I’m enjoying it.