“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”
Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.
“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.
“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.
There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.
It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices. And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.
The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean. Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.
All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each. There are no simple, happy answers.
It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me, it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.
It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.
The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.
COBWEB BRIDE by Vera Nazarian
Publication Date: July 15, 2013
Death has lost his bride and must find her, the Cobweb Bride, before he will again take up his task of bringing a close to life.
Many books … uncountable books … focus on the horror of death, impending death, death by disease, war, accident, murder. This is the first one in my reading experience that focuses on the horror of life with no hope of death, a life where nothing dies. Not a plant, animal or human. No living thing can pass out of life, no matter how damaged, mutilated or ill. No amount of pain, age or readiness will change anything.
Persephone (Percy) can see death. It is her gift, if you’d like to call it that. It makes her unique and eventually, powerful and frightening. But first, she is the most unattractive daughter in a household of three daughters, unloved by her mother, barely tolerated by her sisters. Her father loves her, though effusive demonstrations of affection are hardly his style. Is she destined to be the bride of Death, the one for whom he searches the earth?
Claere is the Infanta, only child, daughter of the Emperor and Empress. Now, because Death will no longer take away those whose time on earth is ended, though she is dead, she is not dead. She walks, speaks, thinks and (sort of) feels. She believes she is the rightful bride of Death. How much more appropriate? She is high royalty and already dead, the perfect Cobweb Bride. Is she the one?
There are others, many others for the Emperor has decreed every family must offer up a daughter (if they have an eligible girl child) to Death. He will only take one, but no one knows who it will be, from which kingdom she will emerge. All that is known is Death demands his Cobweb Bride. Until he finds her, the world cannot be made right. Soon, food stores will run dry and the world will starve to death, yet no one will die and Earth will be entirely populated by the dead-who-are-not-dead.
COBWEB BRIDE is the first book in the Cobweb Bride Trilogy, a grim Grimm-style fairy tale in a mythical version of Europe in the 1700s, a history-flavored fantasy that is both romantic and dark, full of symbolism and shadows.
There are multiple sub-plots and intricate relationships that develop along the way. As the first book of a trilogy, the landscape is laid out for you. The cast of characters is presented and introduced with their histories, strengths, failures, hopes and fears … but without resolution. I usually avoid reading the first book of a trilogy unless at least the second book is already in print. This time, I didn’t have that choice, since I am reviewing the first volume before its release. I wish there was a next book to read.
This is a goodie. It’s different. A little slow getting started, but once it does, the concept and characters are intriguing, the story sufficiently unique that I was hooked.
How dreadful a world-view the author paints where there is no relief from life, when eternity looms before everyone. How bleak and terrifying is the prospect of eternal life? I’ve always thought that the only thing more frightening than death is the prospect of living without possibility of death, the premise on which this book is built.
The premise and the story work, probably because of the richly drawn characters and plot. The players are different, strange, and alluring. The dead and the living interact, to no one’s particular pleasure.
The living dead have varying reactions to their unexpected change of circumstance. The power mad feel they’ve found the ultimate road to even more power. Others wish only for oblivion. What do you do when you are in love with the man who murdered you? When you have to choose whether to obey the insane directives of a dead-not-dead monarch? When does loyalty end in the face of a world that has changed beyond recognition?
In an alternate reality, somewhere in a mythical “pocket” of not-quite-Europe in the Kingdom of Lethe, the strangeness unfolds and everyone must walk a path no one has trod before.
* * *
Vera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award Nominee, award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy. She immigrated to the USA from the former USSR as a kid, sold her first story at the age of 17, and since then has published numerous works in anthologies and magazines, and has seen her fiction translated into eight languages.
She is the author of critically acclaimed novels Dreams of the Compass Rose and Lords of Rainbow, as well as the outrageous parodies Mansfield Park and Mummies and Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, and most recently, Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series.
After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.
If this isn’t the perfect opening chapter to a novel, I don’t know what is. I loved it. It’s wonderful, dark, sexy, and beautifully written. I presume fiction.
Originally posted on Beasley Green:
A dark tale of love, desire and dentistry.
He opened his eyes. His eyes saw nothing and his mind felt nothing. For a moment he had no idea of a before or an after. He had no interest. All was now and now was all inky-black nothing. He was blank.
Then clarity began to permeate the blackness. Sparks of memory, like tiny, phosphorescent, deep sea micro-organisms, flickering on and off like a coded signal trying to tell him something. Just small flickers of light, a slight pulse, then gone… then a sting, and that fire in his blood… Darkness swallowed him up again and he went under.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro. Jaimie Alexander and lots of other people, this is absolutely the best movie ever made by a former governor of California. Or any former governor.
I’m not a very intellectual movie reviewer. That’s just as well, since there is nothing intellectual about this movie.
It’s pretty good. Lots of shooting. Blood spurting. Vicious bad guys. It has the grace to not take itself too seriously, with enough humorous moments and entirely predictable but nonetheless funny lines to make it easy to watch.
“I’m The Sheriff!” growls Arnold and by golly, he is, though Garry and I simultaneously pointed out that he used to be The Governor.
There are a lot of car chases … or maybe not really chases. More accurately, it is exceptionally good stunt driving. They actually did some stunts I’ve never seen before and I really thought I’d seen them all.
Plot? Oh, right. Plot. Okay. Think “High Noon” with a strong whiff of “Terminator.” Or any western movie where the sheriff stands up to some incredibly evil guys and whups their collective asses with the help of his faithful deputies and one old lady with a shot-gun. You’ll be glad to know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, senior citizen, ex-governor gets shot, stabbed and beat up, but walks away proudly in the end. Not into the sunset, but into the local diner. Irv’s Diner. Killing people and catching malevolent drug lords gives him an appetite. I’m just sorry I forgot to buy popcorn. It’s a beautiful, deeply touching, moment.
If you need a violence fix, this is a pretty good choice. It’s well made. Moves right along. Some great artillery and the aforementioned stunt driving.
It’s available on Amazon — free for Prime members. Probably on Netflix too. I haven’t checked but usually if it’s on one, you’ll find it on the other.