(with a bit of grit)
Destination: South Korea
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
by Cho Nam Joo
Cho Nam-Joo wrote Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 in just two months, but don't let that fool you into think it's lacking in structure or style. For Nam-Joo writing the story was a matter of recalling personal experience; althought definitely fiction, this is in a way the story of her life as well.
Like Cho Nam-Joo, Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.
Both the author and the main character live lives defined by their gender and the attitudes of the culture they live in.
Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. She is preyed upon by male teachers at school and blamed by her father for being assaulted. She's overlooked for internships, and then for promotions, she becomes a wife and has to sacrifice her aspirations anyway.
But in a story that shows how mental health struggles can feel impossible to bear, but can act as catalysts for radical self-awakening, there is lgiht at the end of the tunnel for both Kim Jiyoung and for other women who recognise their own struggle in hers. While the central character is a version of the author, she is also a version of women both in Korea in the twentieth century, and around the world today.
The Road to the City
by Natalia Ginzburg
This is a story about summer dreams, the dreams of youth, and the painful path to making dreams come true.
Delia is one of five children, growing up in a poor Italian village. Her ambition is to live a life of luxury, to marry a rich man; she dreams of a grand apartment in the city and silk stockings. But her reality is neglect and sadness at home with her parents.
To escape, she begins to take the dusty road to the city every day, accompanied by Nini, her sweet and mysterious cousin.
When Nini takes a job in a factory and moves in with a city woman, Delia sees another way of being. But when she discovers she’s pregnant, she agrees to marry the father, seduced by the promise of wealth and comfort. Nothing, not even Nini’s desperate declaration of love, can stop her – but her rejection will be his undoing.
The Great Gatsby,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Balmy nights, mint juleps, longing, twinkling lights, heady parties.
You probably already know the characters and the plot twists, but nonetheless, The Great Gatsby is an ultimate summer story, and one that encapsulates the decadence, hope, violence and pain of American dreams.
Destination: Canary Islands via France
by Michel Houellebecq
A characteristically laconic and detached look at the promise and hedonism of travel as a way into understanding much more than that.
A classic Houellebecq forty-something, tragic but wryly intelligent main character takes a one week package holiday to Lanzarote, through the eyes of whom Houellebecq lays out the characteristics of each and every nationality of tourist in borderline politiclaly uncorrect fashion. He meets bisexual nudists, whose sexual engagements he desceibes in pornographic detail but with a flat attitude.
Lanzarote itself forms a barren and dusty backdrop to the meaningless goings on that Houellebecq presents as characterising holidays and, by some chains of reasoning, life itself.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton
by Sara Collins
It's 1826 and Frannie Langon is on trial for the murder of Mr and Mrs Benham, the couple who she has been working for as a maid.
She's accused of their murder with other slurs also attached to her name: slave, seductress, whore.
With others telling Frannie who she is and what she's worth, she has to fight to tell her own story in a court of law. The first step is coming to terms with what her truth actually is, understanding the nuance, and the complexities.
A story that moves from Jamaica to a seedy and inhospitable London, this book implicitly questions what it means to be British, calling to mind the era and the kind of society that contemporary Britain is built on.
by Julietta Harvey
This is a story that evokes the ancient and traditional in the Greek landscape, as well as the new, political, and personal narrative of a refugees journey to find a new home.
Unlike so many narratives that seek to deal with the themes of displacement and homelessness, this is a sensory feast, with the central character finding a way to blend his roots with a future through working with fabrics, remembering the lessons that his textile merchant family taught him.
The heat, the joy, and the beauty of Greece shine through, as the Greek civil war looms. There is no holiday escapism here, but the possibility to vicariously take part in a cultural journey.