akujunkan: (Default)
[personal profile] akujunkan
A new year, a new TWIB, and a new format. Let's see how this goes.

1) The Walking Dead: Days Gone By - Robert Kirkman
Having caught a few episodes of the miniseries I decided to give the graphic novel a look. The heavy handed introduction rubbed me the wrong way right from the start (Does Kirkman really think his readers need him to tell them that zombie fiction can function as an allegory for the ills of modern society?) and the narrative itself disappointed further. Kirkman's proclamations that the series will focus heavily on nuanced and realistic character development were belied by the perfunctory fashion in which he handled each of the narrative climaxes. Moreover, the protagonist has thus far suffered from a terminal case of Always Being Right, and his only flaw seems to be Expecting The Best From Others. I plan to keep reading until Vol. 8 at least, but as things stand now, I think the miniseries has done a far better job of bringing forth the drama and emotional depth latent in this story.

2) I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed By Me - Trevor Paglen
I've wanted to read this book ever since I read this 2008 article about it in the New York Times. It showcases Paglen's collection of military patches issued to commemorate various black ops projects and programs, along with Paglen's explanations of (and speculations about) the symbolism, references, history, and in-jokes contained in each patch's imagery. It's neat stuff that rewards repeated reads, as Paglen's descriptions sometimes miss or omit interesting aspects of the individual patches. If the past three days are any indication, I Could Tell You is also going to become one of the most popular books in my collection with friends and family.

3) White Cat - Holly Black
I picked up Black's first three novels for something frivolous to read during my commute and ended up really enjoying them, so I was looking forward to reading this novel as well. While Tithe et al. resemble Neil Gaiman, White Cat owes an obvious narrative debt to Diana Wyne Jones, specifically her Chrestomanci series. I mention this because I'm not the biggest fan of Chrestomanci and I think this might have colored my perceptions of this novel as well. It takes place in a present day world in which one out of every few thousand people is a "worker," or someone whose touch can manipulate others into dreaming, falling in love, forgetting things, or even dying. Although Black did an excellent job evoking an atmosphere of dread and distrust both in the ways regular people treat workers and how workers treat each other, I found it hard to sympathise with the characters at important junctures in the narrative, as the plot seemed to dictate their actions instead of their actions driving the plot. That said, the novel poses questions about family, race, and greed and integrity that a lot of YA fare doesn't want to touch with a ten foot pole. Although it isn't at the top of my list, I'll still probably check out the second volume to see where she's going with this.

4) The Walking Dead: Miles Behind Us - Robert Kirkman
The second volume in this series was not much of an improvement over the first. The character development continues to feel two-dimensional and the plots rushed. The main character continues to be right in all things, and no one takes issue with him when his decisions lead to bad outcomes (which I believe has much to do with my sense that Kirkman is skimming over the story). The female characters are shrews or suffocating in their desire to nurture, while the male characters either defer to the protagonist (and are thus Good Guys) or question him (and are thus Unreasonable and Selfish). Moore's atmospheric, dynamic panel work is excellently done and salvages the series from becoming downright bad. Unfortunately, it can't do all the heavy lifting on its own. I still maintain hope, however, that things will pick up within the next few volumes.

5) The Ginseng Hunter - Jeff Talarigo
The protagonist of this novel (novella, really) is an unnamed Chinese man in his late forties or early fifties who ekes out a living tending a small farm and harvesting wild ginseng on the China-North Korea border. He lives in solitude aside from monthly pilgrimages to the town of Yanji (which is populated largely by ethnically-Korean Chinese) to buy supplies and purchase sex at a local brothel. Here he meets the novel's unnamed love interest, a Korean economic refugee who excites his curiosity because she is inexperienced and looks fifteen.

Although the novel is 170-odd pages long, neither the protagonist nor the love interest are fleshed out much beyond these bare bones descriptions, largely because they function as mouthpieces through which Talarigo instructs readers in Modern North Korea 101. Unfortunately, his knowledge of the country does not extend beyond news reportage in the New York Times and memoirs such as The Aquariums of Pyongyang and This is Paradise!, and will thus be old news to anyone at all familiar with the DPRK. This state of affairs is not aided by Talarigo's hamfisted attempts at profundity. Is this what we have come to? the protagonist laments on page 88, buying and selling destitute human beings?

He's responding to the brothel owner's suggestion that he purchase the love interest, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has been purchasing destitute human beings for the past thirty years during his monthly trips to the brothel--a contradiction which Talarigo never addresses. From this point the story meanders on for another hundred pages or so until Talarigo stops writing. Japanese novelists can make this sort of aimless narrative compelling; Talarigo, not so much.

There are some passages--such as when the protagonist is harvesting ginseng--where Talarigo's talent shines through. It's too bad that these passages are outnumbered by the exposition dumps and attempts at Deep and Meaningful Prose. The Ginseng Hunter might be a decent read for anyone completely unfamiliar with North Korea, but it's likely to leave others cold. Although it might be harder to track down, I ultimately have to recommend Yi Mun-yol's An Appointment with My Brother to anyone wishing to read a short novella that compellingly captures the mess that is modern day North Korea.

That will be all.
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.


akujunkan: (Default)

July 2014

27282930 31  

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 17th, 2017 04:05 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios