The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 780 pages.
Re-read from April 28, 2021 to May 25, 2021.
First read December 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010.

I never imagined that I would be rereading this classic novel 10 years down the road, however, reading this novel the second time around and with a book club gave me even more appreciation for the author and the story.

Small crew to discuss this book but the group leader got us some great mugs with which I then proceeded to drink my beer out of.

First published in 1869, the English translation wasn’t available for this book until the early 20th century. The Idiot begins with the protagonist Myshkin arriving back in Russia after a stint at a Swiss sanitorium. Perceived as an ‘idiot’ for both his epilepsy, honesty, kindness, and naivety Myshkin attempts to navigate Russia high society. Surrounded by greed, lust, drama, and power-hungry individuals, it’s no wonder Myshkin is perceived as an idiot by his peers. However, his otherworldly perspective and kindness do not go unnoticed, drawing his attention to two very different women with which, he will falls in love with them both.

The question that seems to be raised by Dostoevsky is that is it possible for someone to be completely authentic, honest, genuine, and kind without bringing ruin to others and specifically themselves? The Idiot appears to hold a mirror up to Russian society in the late 19th century which, as an exceptional realist writer, Dostoevsky pulls off beautifully. The highlights of the book come from Myshkin’s interactions with the female characters and antagonist, it’s where you feel the most invested in the book. The faults with this book are its length and an extensive cast of characters that, due to Russian naming, makes them difficult to keep track of. Each character serves a purpose in showing the faults and varying virtues of Russian society to give a deeper idea of Myshkin and his ideals. The story also makes extensive references to Christianity and Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. The novel itself ends tragically which, is no surprise there as many Russian novels do, especially Dostoevsky’s.

While The Idiot made less of an impact on me than Crime and Punishment it is still a unique piece of Dostoevsky’s work that appears to be more personal than his other writings. While the length of the book is somewhat off-putting it made for an exceptional book club discussion. It may not be a book for your average reader but if you enjoy classics, Russian literature, or historical fiction you will find value in this book.

The Mermaid of Jeju by Sumi Hahn

“The half moon disappeared behind a cloud, casting the scene into darkness. The silence between the boy and girl expanded. It filled with memories of promises made, words that the world had broken.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from March 25, 2021 to March 31, 2021.

I’ve always been fascinated by the women on Jeju Island that, for generations, have been deep-sea diving to feed their families and community. This amazing group of divers are known as haenyeo.

“The ocean sucked each diver down greedily. But the women were prepared for battle. They swiped their knives at the fingers of the sea grass that clutched at them. They used picks to pry away shells clinging to underwater rocks. They worked the waters, humming the chants of their forebearing mothers, who had explored the deep before them.”

Set in the mid-1940s, Korea is undergoing massive change at the end of WWII with the forced withdrawal of Japanese that have occupied Korea for decades. Junja is a young woman who has recently joined the ranks of haenyeo after surviving the rite of passage from a treacherous dive. Junja, who has never left her village, convinces her mother that she is old enough and responsible enough to take the annual delivery to the mountains. During this trip, she meets a young boy named Suwol who ends up rescuing her from a dangerous situation on the road. Shook by the encounter on the road, she is equally as smitten with Suwol. Unfortunately, the quiet village where Junja lives is not immune to the political changes affecting her country with the massive upheaval left with the withdrawal of the Japanese. Nationalists now contend with Communists and the US troops have taken the place of the Japanese. When Junja returns home, she finds her mother dead. It was claimed that she drowned and was battered at sea but the real story of her death is much more harrowing. Junja is devastated. As she drowns in her grief, her siblings are sent away to live with their estranged father while she remains at home with her grandmother. Junja’s world will never be the same and she must make a choice and learn to get through the storm of changes. 

This book started strongly and captivated me with its gorgeous writing and heartbreaking outcomes. The story spans over a few decades, as it begins with where Junja ends up later in life and how her story comes full circle in the end. The rich depictions of the haenyeo and their life in this small sea village are beautiful and visceral while the plot also highlights important parts of Korean heritage and history. 

“Here is a secret: Long long time ago, when I was a girl, I was a mermaid, too.” 

The last half of the book felt less cohesive than the first causing my interest to wane near the end of the novel. It’s still a beautiful story with great characters that paint a picture of a mythical, turbulent and resilient Korea. Historical-fiction lovers will enjoy Junja’s story as well as anyone interested in post-war history or coming of age stories.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

“So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 285 pages.
Read from February 14, 2021 to February 20, 2021.

We all know just how hard nurses, doctors and, frontline staff work in hospitals but unless you work within the industry it’s difficult to fathom the intensity and challenges that come with the industry. Enter Adam Kay…

Adam Kay was once a junior doctor working for the NHS in the UK. During his residency and beyond, he kept a diary to maintain his sanity in which he detailed the nuances and extremes of working as a doctor. From the long working hours, lack of sleep and social life, to the nitty-gritty details of the labour ward, the lack of support from the government, and occasionally very obtrusive patients, Adam Kay spares his readers nothing.

“I’m as big a fan of recycling as the next man, but if you turn a used condom inside out and put it back on for round two, it’s probably not going to be that effective.”

However, after a traumatic experience nearing his final years before becoming a full-fledged doctor, Adam Kay stepped away from the profession for good. Thankfully, Adam is a decent writer with a sense of humour and has been able to make quite the career detailing his time as a doctor. I did wonder how he managed to get away publishing all of these details without getting sued but it wasn’t without ruffling a few feathers as Adam comes across as highly critical of the NHS system and doesn’t always paint others within the industry in a nice light. With his unique and very British sense of humour, Adam points out some of the most serious flaws within the NHS system, issues that also plague Canada’s healthcare, such as long wait times, long working hours with no pay raises for employees etc. Yet Adam’s story subtly rubbed me the wrong way and it was hard to put my finger on why. There was a tone of arrogance and cynicism with the way Adam approached this book, that while I enjoyed aspects of this book, and even laughed at certain situations, all I could think was that I was glad that this man wasn’t a doctor anymore. When I discussed this book with friends, most of them did not share the sentiments as me and enjoyed the book and its contents thoroughly and welcomed its honest and critical approach to medicine and the NHS. Perhaps Adam’s British humour missed its mark with me (despite me having married a Brit)?

Does this book shed light on the day-to-day life of medical workers and the issues faced under the NHS? Yes, absolutely and for that reason, it is worth reading. It is also highly entertaining and funny at times but it does make you wonder if ethically, this book and the approach that was taken, was the right thing to do.