1. Normal People, Sally Rooney
This book has been widely circulated in conversations. A title of literary debate & discussion among student friends. It is a novel that has won prestigious awards, including of The Costa Novel Award 2018 and The Specsavers National Books Award 2018 (for International Author). Normal People was always longlisted for both The Man Booker Prize of 2019 and The Women's Prize for Fiction in 2019.
The premise: Two characters, Connell and Marianne, grow up together in a small town in rural Ireland. Despite their difference in socio-economic status, the two find themselves sharing that wild, elusive desire to share in a companionship that protects them from the loneliness of their respective worlds. After both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, their connection grows into the kind of relationship that follows them, sometimes precariously, into future years.
Perhaps unpopular an opinion, I did not enjoy Normal People. Yes, it is an easy read in that the sentences lead one into another effortlessly, but the narrative was difficult. It left me feeling sad.
I think there are themes in the book that deserve their attention in the spotlight, but overall, Normal People left with its end a hopelessness. Or cynicism, for a better word? Rooney's novel seemed to regard its characters with a cynicism that seemed to give them almost no benefit of doubt; the patterns that they exhibited, although referenced (foreshadowed) from the beginning, never strayed from expectation, and this felt a little unbelievable to me.
I'm not saying this is, by any means, to demean the book. I know that the narrative has been highly regarded by many readers around the world. I think I'm simply working out my own response to the reading. I would've liked to have understood the characters a little better. I think, had I been given a glimpse of both Connell and Marianne on their own, I would've been able to better understand the nature of their relationship in the way I believe Rooney intended.
2. Molly's Game, dir. Aaron Sorkin
Molly's Game, an American biographical crime drama film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner in the cinematic retelling of Molly Bloom's memoir. It follows the arch of Bloom whose own book has turned her in. When she becomes the target of an FBI investigation for running an underground poker empire for the high-immunized-mighty, Bloom seeks out a lawyer to defend her case.
I read the script for Molly's Game about a year and a half ago, but I didn't watch the film. Perhaps because it hadn't been released yet, or I wanted to give a little time between reading and viewing. I can't remember entirely, but I am glad that I waited because I had the chance to watch it for the first time yesterday evening with a friend of mine. And a film is usually so much better when appreciated with someone else.
There are some fascinating reviews online, and I'd highly recommend googling them. You'll jump from one opinion to the next easily. I recommend this film. Jessica Chastain is phenomenal in her role, as is Idris Elba. Their conviction for the characters is at the forefront of every monologue and conversation (of which the script switches seamlessly between).
3. First Person Sorrowful, Ko Un
translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha
Published by Bloodaxe Books in 2012, Ko Un's First Person Sorrowful was a library-find; the poems are intimate and reflective. Ko Un has published more than 150 volumes of poetry, writing histories----the entire history of South Korea, the autobiography of a poet and the earth in its aging. After a little reading, I learned that Ko Un found poetry in the book by Han Ha-Un. The Guardian quotes Ko Un:
It was poems written by a leper. He'd written these very sad, mournful poems as he roamed about the Korean countryside. Somebody had bought it and then abandoned I try the roadside. I felt it had been left there for me. I read it and read it all night through. That morning, I woke up and vowed to myself that I would write poetry like this man, and that's when I became somebody who was determined to write poems relating to my own life.
In the article, Ko Un spoke of the guilt: surviving the Korean War when half of his generation died:
I'm inhabited by a lament for the dead. I bear the dead within me still, and they write through me. Sometimes it's not me writing at all. It's they who are writing, they are there, ahead, a live presence in what lies ahead.
Moved to political activism, Ko Un spent four spells in prison. Hearing about the horrors related to authoritarian regimes, Ko Un began to compare the death he dreamt of with those of demonstrators, and he "began to cast away the kind of death [he] had been carrying," going out into the streets to protest. During his third time in prison, when accused of conspiring to overthrow the state, Ko Un was confronted with the possibility of death. Here the idea for Maninbo (Ten Thousand Lives) arose. This 30-volume book was made in oath that every individual he ever met would be remembered in a short poem.
First Person Sorrowful is a poignant collection because it questions what it means to be carry the past through linear temporality. These translations seem to be executed beautifully, as they rhyme with imagery, with explanations and ordered interruptions. Even without knowing the story behind the author, the collection read with such sorrow. It felt comforting in its portrayal.