The New Normal
Who would have thought that COVID-19 would flip our lives. In a matter of months, pandemonium has set in – countries started shutting down borders and issuing stay-at-home directives and orders. All these initiatives initiated in order to stifle the exponential spread of the feared virus. In light of these stay-at-home and quarantine directives, nearly half of the human population is stuck at home, looking for something to while the time.
Whilst the extroverted find comfort in TikTok to exhaust their excess energy, there are those who immerse in books, getting lost in the wonders of the printed text. I belong to the former, and in the past six weeks the enhanced community quarantine has been put in place in the northern Philippines, I’ve completed thirteen books. In comparison, I’ve read fourteen books in two and a half months. With this sudden paradigm shift, we have now a new normal. Not that I am complaining. Haha.
Enough of my musing and go back to my April reading wrap up. For the third consecutive month, I did a regional literature reading adventure. After immersing in African and European literature, I saw it fitting to pivot towards my native, Asian literature. I’ve done one Asian Literature month each (and one Japanese Literature month) in 2018 and 2019. Keeping up with the tradition, I did the same for 2020.
With the vastness of the continent, it was a challenge finding books that are representative of its culture and its diversity. Nonetheless, I tried my best but for the most part, I careened towards authors I am familiar with (one half of the six I completed in April). It’s been quite some time since at least three of the books I’ve read for the month were of authors I’ve read before. But just when I thought I was familiar with their art, they’ve proven me wrong.
Without more ado, here’s the magnificent reads I had in April.
Human Acts by Han Kang
I thought I was done for with Korean author Han Kang. I found myself on the fence with her Man Booker International Prize winning work, The Vegetarian. I was confused then (it did make sense more now that it did before) and it took a trusted friend’s recommendation to convince me to read this book. I didn’t regret that decision. Human Acts, a novel about the 1980 Gwangju Massacre and how it affected the lives of a select representative group, is a heartbreaking account of humanity. It is a visceral masterpiece that is local in its execution but universal in its message. I never thought I would love one of Kang’s work but I did, although it pained me in several parts. A dark but outstanding read.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
From South Korea to Philippines. I hate to admit it but I am mostly in the dark when it comes to books written by my fellow Filipinos but recently, I’ve been exerting effort to correct that. This goal made led me to Filipino-American writer Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing. Like Human Acts, this young adult piece documents a country’s struggles. Patron Saints of Nothing is the story of contemporary Philippines – the drug war, the poverty, the dismal record in journalism – told through the eyes and voice of Filipino-American Jay Reguero. Parts coming-of-age, it depicts the rites of passage of a young man who grew up away from his motherland. “Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan,” reverberates all throughout.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is, without a doubt, one of my current favorite authors. His works, especially Midnight’s Children, has stirred me into different mesmerizing literary adventures. But just when I thought I knew his and understand his work, he proved me wrong. The Satanic Verses is one of his titles that I’ve been avoiding because of its rather ominous title but once I’ve heard the controversy that hounded it, my curiosity was instantly piqued. In a nutshell, the story is about good and evil, about how angels topple demons. With his Rushdie-esque twist, he gave this concept a different take. It was so different that it nearly caused his life. Albeit slow-paced, it was one that was teeming with several religious overtures. Just like Midnight’s Children, it is best experienced by savoring it word for word.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
I barley had any iota on what Empress Orchid was about or who Anchee Min is. This book is one of those random purchases I do when I drop by the mall. After years of gathering dust in my bookshelf, I finally picked it up after suffering a major hangover from The Satanic Verses. Imagine how irritated I was with myself for having not read this book already. A historical, pseudo-biographical fiction, it relates the story of China’s last empress, Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi and how she ascended from the quagmires of poverty to the throne hall of the Forbidden City. I’ve come across the Empress Dowager’s name before but I was never curious enough to learn more about her story. Empress Orchid made me see her life story on a different light. The book’s pleasurable pace made it a delightful read but there were times that the story left some voids. I am thinking about reading the book’s sequel.
Fish-Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis
In nearly 15 years of reading, never have I read two Filipino works in one month (yep, I am kind of ashamed of this blemish in my record). April 2020 broke that dry spell. After Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing, Filipino-Australian Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-Hair Woman became my second Filipino read for the month. Yes, we consider everyone with Filipino blood as full-blooded Filipinos regardless of the nationality that comes after the hyphen. Well, Filipino pride you know. Anyway, Fish-Hair Woman is rather a mixture of differing elements including fantasy and parts of Philippine literature and traditions. An interesting read, it showed sparks of Nick Joaquin’s surrealistic writing in a more contemporary setting. The winner of the Goodreads Most Underrated Book Award of 2013, it is finely textured narrative about history, family, love, and war.
The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk
To conclude my venture into Asian literature, I next traveled to Asia Minor, to Istanbul with Nobel Laureate in Literature Orhan Pamuk’s The Red-Haired Woman. The story starts with the young Cem joining Master Mahmut in digging a well in an arid plot of land near Istanbul. Whilst on commission, he met and fell in love with the red-haired woman. The story then branches out. What weighed down on me is the story’s recurring mention of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Ferdawsi’s Rustam and Sohrab taken from The Persian Book of Kings Shahnameh. The foreshadowing gave the story away. Nonetheless, it was an interesting story that did wander a bit. Unlike Snow, my first Pamuk novel, the story and the writing were simpler and easier to discern.
Current Read: A Wild Shepe Chase by Haruki Murakami
I guess May is going to be an extension of my April Asian Literature month for I am immersing on one portion of Asian literature – Japanese literature. With many books written by Japanese authors, I saw it fitting to dedicate a month exclusively for Japanese authors. Through the works of Murakami, Ishiguro and Kawabata, I have slowly fallen in love with Japanese literature, its whimsies, its traditions, and its every curve. I guess it is but fitting to commence my reading adventure with master storyteller, Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. Surprisingly, this book has a quicker pace, hence, an easier read. We’ll see.
Reading Challenge Recaps:
- My 2019 Top 20 Reading List: 9/20
- Beat The Backlist: 4/12
- My 2019 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Gooodreads 2019 Reading Challenge: 27/60
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 8/15
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 5/20
Book Reviews Published in April:
- Book Review # 167: It’s Kind of a Funny Story
- Book Review # 168: Patron Saints of Nothing
- Book Review # 169: The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic
- Book Review # 170: Human Acts
How about you readers? How was your April reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!