The October 2005 issue of Poetry contains mostly mediocre poems with a few shining lights. This issue felt like it relied too heavily on poems that fit within rigid rhyming schemes (which isn’t in itself bad, but it more or less felt stale). Though, I thoroughly enjoyed the poems by J.D. Whitney and Amit Majmudar. I was particularly fond of the poem ‘The Miscarriage’ by Amit Majmudar which ended on the lines, “our bodies folded shut our bodies closed/around hope like a book preserving petals/a book we did not open till the morning when/we found hope dry and brittle but intact”.
Final Rating: 3/5
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim is a novel which analyzes Japan’s rule of Korea using interweaving characters and shows how the people there dealt with turmoil. The main character the novel focuses on is Jade, who is sold to a brothel to be raised as courtesan. Along the way, she meets her lifelong friend, becomes a famous actress, witnesses brutal acts by the Japanese soldiers, and falls in love. The rest of the characters seem to revolve around Jade, from JungHo and HanChol vying for her love, to her foster aunt Dani, to the Japanese officers, to her friend Lotus. The novel is a rich tapestry of political alliances, lovers, friends, and conflicts that arise in a country under the forceful rule of an intruder.
I was particularly drawn to the recurring themes and metaphors of the tiger, which was seen as both mystical and, to the Japanese, something to be conquered. I loved the way Kim paralleled the way the treatment of the tigers was reflected in the treatment of the Korean people. Additionally, its prologue which began with a hunt for an animal, was brought up in moments of intensity between Ito and JungHo, and Yamada’s death in the snow dappled forest. There was a tightness to the flow if the story, and I found myself quite intrigued with JungHo’s plotline. Though, I felt that the use of first person in the beginning of part two and the epilogue didn’t seem to capture the same magic the rest of the book did. I understand why (to show the intimacy of JungHo and Jade’s connection) but it didn’t feel as strong. Overall, I felt that this novel worked to convey the brutality of the Japanese, the beginnings of love, and what it meant to live in Korea during the occupation.
Final Rating: 4/5
Normal People by Sally Rooney is a novel about a budding relationship between Marianne and Connell which spans three years and multiple relationships. The novel doesn’t follow a strong plot, and so is guided mostly by conversations, parties, and dates. It is pushed forward by the constant feeling of will Marianne and Connell be together or won’t they.
I preface my discussion about Normal People by saying that I am not the book’s intended audience (i.e. white middle class women). I generally find stories that cannot emotionally or physically drive characters forward to be stale and uninteresting. While things surely do happen in the novel, things feel loosely linked.
In other reviews and discussions of the book, people have praised Rooney’s style and prose. Though, this never really made any sense to me because her phrases feel clunky with little information conveyed. For example, on page 31 she writes, “Instead everyone has to pretend not to notice that their social lives are arranged hierarchically, with certain people at the top, some jostling at mid-level, and others lower down.” This sentence could’ve ended at “hierarchically”, as it is implied that there are people at the top, middle, and bottom. Sentences like this are not outliers and are so common, it feels like most of what I read was fluff.
Another aspect I felt was lacking was the way Rooney approaches social class dynamics between Marianne and Connell. In this instance, Marianne is the rich one with the distant mother (a tired trope) while Connell is the poor one whose mother works for Marianne’s mother. Though, beyond this initial setup and the heavy-handed discussions of Communism, there is little consideration of money as a driving factor. Yes, it is shown that Connell has to work jobs and leave college once because he can’t afford it, but these moments are tossed aside and rarely considered after. For example, if Connell is meant to be the one without money, then why does he, as opposed to Marianne, drive a car? Why is, in the consideration of college, little attention paid towards the stresses of having to pay for tuition? If Rooney were to truly consider what it means to come from few means, this book would need to dig deeper into these types of institutional barriers.
And as an aside, from page 162 it describes Connell thinking about writing. “In his little gray journal he wrote recently: idea for a story told through email? Then he crossed it out, deciding it was gimmicky.” Though, this confuses me because in her following book Beautiful World, Where Are You, Rooney uses email as a way to push her story forward. I just can’t wrap my head around the inconsistency of this logic.
Overall, this novel was deeply lacking in its use of language and meaning. Small things that also felt odd was the absent use of quotations or dialogue syntax, always drinking tea/coffee/wine, odd use of past and present tenses, grating sex scenes, and dull descriptions. I felt like I was reading a book that had no zest/character/spice.
Final Rating: 1.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.