Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

 Listening to Cesaria Evora Live d'Amour.

 Painting this year's Christmas cards:

Pachinko is the story of a family of Koreans during the Japanese occupation of their country, how they struggled to survive and eventually got through to the other side of the war (although not everyone did).  It is a profound and powerful record of history from a little regarded perspective, the Korean.

While Westerners may lump Asians together, they have distinctive cultures, languages and their own opinions about each other.  

It is a popular opinion to vilify Americans for their role in WWII by devastating Japanese cities with the H Bomb.  It is not so popular to consider that the Chinese and Koreans do not view the Japanese as innocent victims and were actually grateful to Americans for ending a war that killed far more people in their countries than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – PBS Books




This book started out strong. As a Christian, I wondered if this book was written by a Christian because she was unusually respectful to the Christian characters in her book.

But the got worse halfway through the book. According to the author, the Koreans and Japanese went from morally conservative people in the 1940s to foul mouthed participants of casual sex by 1960.

The first generation of characters were admirable in their courage and grit, getting through grinding poverty and oppression during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 40s. I felt their suffering, rooted for their success and was profoundly relieved when their lot against all odds improved. The author colorfully describes the plight of the Koreans under Japanese rule, something that seems to be overshadowed in the U.S. by the plethora of documentaries about Japanese internment camps. People seem to forget who started that war.

When we get to the third generation, we see how both Korea and Japan have recovered from war torn countries to robust business people. They did this by their own effort and ingenuity. These people, who were truly victims, did not try to self-identify as victims or expect a free ride. People who are part of the victim identity politics of today might learn something by generations past.


by the time the children have grown up and started college or work, the moral standards have sunk into decrepitude. This generation, according to the author, cannot express themselves without using the "F" word and sex with your girlfriend was a matter of course.

I wonder at this because even in the west using the F word wasn't common until the eighties when it was in all the movies and as a consequence became a part of the population's vocabulary.

When the moral standard sunk, so did my interest in the book. It deteriorated into a kind of soap opera with characters I could not care less about.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

How I came Into My Inheritance by Dorothy Gallgher

 Here are Albinoni's Oboe Concertos.




 This highly engaging read is the story of the author's family and their history. She starts with her parents at the end of their lives. They are old and irascible. Living in New York City, Dorothy Gallagher finds herself driving back and forth from her home to upstate New York to care for her parents. They live in filthy conditions and refuse to take care of themselves. She can't get them to move nearer to her or even in with her. Social Services inform her that they can do nothing against their will.

They eventually die and that is the first chapter. The rest of the book is going back in time to when her parents immigrated from the Ukraine to America before WWI, worked hard and succeeded and stayed devout Communists. Even when news of Stalin's atrocities were undeniable, they waved it away. OK, people starved to death by the millions. You have to break a few eggs to make omelets.

Ms. Gallagher is not impressed and she deftly exposes the irrationality of clinging to an ideal when the consequences are fleshed out into reality and come crashing down around it.

The author was raised on the edge of Harlem and saw it change from predominantly Irish, Scottish, and Italian families to mostly black (she says negro, but that seems a bit dated). Being the only Jewish girl at school, in addition to being the only white student, she got beat up regularly but was told by her parents that the bullies were the victims because of their color, not her.

She rode that precarious edge where anything you said or did was considered racist or oppressive. Not by black people, mind you, but by her parents and their fellow Jewish communists. It's hard to believe this was back in the forties. It sounds like today.

Ms. Gallagher does not sugarcoat her parents or their family members. They are presented in all the lively, colorful glory from their lives back in the Ukraine to the rest of the lives in New York and eventually Florida and California.

Her writing is reminiscent of Isaac Bashivis Singer with wry humor and charismatic characters, except she is writing a biography of her family, not fiction.

The last couple of vignettes are of her attempts and finally success at becoming a professional writer.

I read this book in two sittings on the same day, that's how readable it is.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Secrets and Stained Glass by S.E. Drake

 I'm listening to Schumann's piano works.

I had the great honor to edit this book for a cousin of Josh.  Shiloh Drake is 16 years old and wrote a really good mystery.  Shiloh is homeschooled and did some missionary work in Haiti.  While there she met another girl who told her life story to her.  This book is inspired from this girl's story.

It has a blatant Christian worldview so I understand it's not what everyone would be interested in, but I do hope the home school community with teenage children will give the book a try.  I'll leave a link at the end of the review.

Sorry about the inconsistent formatting.  I don't know what I did to make the paragraphs like that.

A young girl, Stacie Alwin has lived a life without love or affection. Her mother abandoned her at a young age. Her stepmother wants her out and her father is too passive or indifferent to take any action on Stacie's behalf.

Upon graduation from high school, Stacie decides to begin a new life away from her home town where she grew up and away from her stepmother and father.

Her stepmom and father muster up as much concern about her leaving as they are capable, which isn't much, and soon wave her car goodbye as it leaves the driveway.

On to the southern part of Illinois Stacie drives and arrives at a small town called Fauna, where everyone knows everyone and she soon finds herself a part of a huge church family filled with people who welcome her into their lives.

Her job is to be church secretary, which she finds satisfaction in and also enjoys a friendship with Rose, the choir director, with whom she shares the parsonage.

But soon, things go awry. Stacie hears and sees things in the rooms and hallways of the church that shouldn't be there. Are there such things as ghosts? If so, why are they here? If not, who is trying to scare her?

Thus begins a personal investigation into a church that has an odd past and perhaps a terrifying present.

This book is written for Junior High and High School level readers, although I think adults can enjoy this book as well. I certainly did. I thought the mystery was intriguing and the storyline well-developed. The characters were interesting and believable. I am glad to know that this is the first of a series S.E. Drake plans on publishing, because I already want to get to know Stacie, Rose and the townspeople of Fauna better.

Link on Amazon:

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Dirty Death by Rebecca Tope

Here is Bill Evans, my favorite jazz pianist.

A Dirty Death (Den Cooper, #1)A Dirty Death by Rebecca Tope

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read four of Tope's Cotswold Mysteries and this is my first of the Den Cooper series. Actually I'm a little surprised to see that it's called a Den Cooper series, because Cooper doesn't seem to play a large or effective role in this particularly mystery.

As other reviewers have said. The mystery takes place on a farm where the farmer is found dead in a slurry. Being American, at first I thought this was a sort of bog, but I'm pretty sure now it's where they pile all the cow poop. Yuck. I suppose there's worst ways to die, but not many.

We get to know the victim through the inner narration of many of the characters. I found this to be an interesting and skillful way of developing the characters as well as the story line.

None of the characters seem to understand the others. Their primary attitude toward each other is annoyance and impatience. Everyone has their inner angst that seems to obstruct a clear view of who the other people really are. I found this interesting, because I found myself despising a certain character when another character related to them, but then we get inside that character's mind and realize they've got their own problems and reasons for acting the way they do.

The Farmer, his name is Guy by the way, turns out to be someone no one except his daughter liked. His daughter liked him because he treated her well, like a little girl, even though she was in her twenties. It was hard to imagine her as a grown woman, because she seemed so adolescent.

No one liked Guy with good reason. He was emotionally and psychologically abusive to his wife. He was verbally abusive to Sam, his hired man. In fact, he was a plain all round nasty individual. He was married before and had two sons from this previous marriage, whom he never contacted and left nothing to in his will.

So. Who did it? Of course I'm not going to tell you, except to say that I found the plot line very interesting and it kept me going to the very end.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City by Adina Hoffman; 1000 Tattoos ed. by Henk Schiffmacher; The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice by Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh

 Here are the Complete Harpsichord Concertos by J.S. Bach.




I came across this old photo of me with my baby boy.  Baby boy is now 6'2 and living in China.  Thank God for WeChat.  I can talk to him every day and he sounds like he's in the next room, not on the other side of the world.


So far this year I've read 218 books.  I set a goal for myself to read 300 books before January.  Not that numbers are a worthy aspiration, but I was hoping to decrease the number on Mount TBR.  It has not worked because a big chunk of these books are from the library.  These three, however, are my own and you may be getting a lot of reviews of multiple books in one post from now until 2021 in an effort to make my goal.

I love architecture and this time last year I toured Israel for three weeks. So I was interested to read a book about its architecture, although it seemed to me that most towns were made up of white washed square, stone apartments.

This book kind of explains that as we learn of the German Jewish architects who traveled to Jerusalem during the height of the Bauhaus movement and left their imprint on the buildings there.

We get biographies of various European architects, many Jewish, but not all, along with Middle Eastern architects and how they arrived in Jerusalem, their philosophy of building, and how they impacted a city that is holy to so many cultures.

Along with the architecture we get a history of a pre-born and newly born Israel and the political tensions that developed along the way. 

 If you're interested in tons of photos of people's tattoos through the ages, this book is for you. There are, well, probably a thousand, ha, ha different tattoos. You can see the development of the art, how it changed throughout the years and also the forms of tattoo art from different countries.

I wish there was a little more information on the photos, especially the photos of tattooed women from the thirties, forties and fifties, when it was unheard of for a woman to get a tattoo. Who were these women that bucked the contemporary culture? Were they women from questionable, " not respectable" backgrounds, or bored housewives that liked having a naughty secret?

I have always found tattoos interesting, even though I don't have any.  But I think after a while, they all start to look the same. Still, I like asking people how they came by their tattoos, because there's always an interesting backstory involved. 
If it's not personal, I'd like to know if any of my readers have a tattoo, what it looks like and the story behind getting it.

This book was not exactly what I was expecting. I thought I was going to get more information on the missing illuminated manuscripts of the Bible from Armenia. There were very few pictures.

However, there was a history of the manuscripts and the mysterious artists who created them. This history is intertwined with the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman government. From 1915-1917 an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were murdered in an effort to ethnically "cleanse" the western part of Turkey and other regions of Armenian Christians.

The author also describes the area of Armenia under Soviet rule and also how the illuminated manuscripts ended up in museums, one of which was the Paul Getty Museum in California.

The author does her best to make a case for museums creating stricter measures and criteria for museums fielding possible artifacts and making sure that they are not buying priceless works from a source that pilfered the works.

I fully understand the need for not buying stolen artwork, but where Watenpaugh goes too far is when she begins demanding that all land or work sacred to a certain ethnic group be returned, such as land sacred to Native Americans or work of art that was stolen over a hundred years ago. How can you return work to someone no longer alive?

Also, it seems to me that museums are in the best position to preserve priceless works of art, which is why the owners of so many works loan them to museums, it staves off the tax man while letting the taxpayers maintain your priceless art.

The book was OK, but I'd like to read other, less slanted sources of Armenian history and especially a source more focused on the Bible manuscripts with a greater number of photos.