I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 328 pages.
Read from May 17th, 2018 to May 28th, 2018.

Why don’t I read more true crime novels? It is a question that I never thought to ask myself until now and even I don’t really have the answer to. I adore watching crime documentaries and programs so why not books? Michelle actually said it best:

“I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.”

This book became an overnight sensation as the author, Michelle NcNamara, passed away before completing it. In life, Michelle was married to Patton Oswalt, a famous comedian. Michelle’s abrupt and unexpected death hit Patton very hard. He decided to finish his wife’s obsession and life’s work with the help of a few others with the remaining data that Michelle had left.

If you had not heard of the Golden State Killer before the publication of this book, I am sure that you have now as this book has brought to light a cold case that has (had) evaded authorities for decades. The Golden State Killer paralyzed Northern Californa in the 70s and 80s by committing a suspected 50 rapes. He had a routine of breaking into peoples homes where they are supposed to feel safe and was not deterred if the woman’s partner was present, in fact, that seemed to become his preference later on. The Golden State Killer got his nickname, coined by the author later on, when he took his crimes to the southern part of the state and committed 12 spine-chilling rapes and murders.

Michelle became obsessed with tracking down the Golden State Killer. She interviewed and befriended detectives that had worked the case previously and scrupulously reviewed all previous evidence with the use of modern technology and the wonders of the internet.

“That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch-wide hatch of endless possibilities…”

This book, at least the sections that were written by Michelle herself, are about her journey and obsession to track down this horrible murderer and rapist. Michelle’s intrigue into crime came from an incident that happened in her own hometown and from there Michelle fell in love with true crime. Michelle talks about how strange it is to be obsessed with something so morbid and to try and escape the fear and hate that it creates when dealing with such horrific acts caused by a man.

“I love my husband. I hate men.”

The sections of the book that Michelle wrote are intimate, gripping and full of the talent and passion that she truly possessed. Had she been able to complete this book on her own I have no doubt that its literary merit along with its exquisitely detailed research would have landed Michelle an award. However, because she passed before finishing this book the story feels unfinished and disjointed. Incomplete. But perhaps it is best left that way.

Michelle’s efforts with this book helped bring new light to the Golden State Killer case and shortly after the book was published, Joeseph DeAngelo was arrested for the crimes.

“The Daily Beast was the first to report that DeAngelo was the suspect arrested after an interview with journalist Billy Jensen, who worked with researchers on a book about the crimes, I’ll Be Gone in the DarkThe book was written by Michelle McNamara, who died before it was published. It was finished by Jensen, researcher Paul Haynes, and McNamara’s husband, the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt.” – The Daily Beast – April 25, 2017

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Joeseph DeAngelo in court in Sacramento. Image credit The LA Times: https://lat.ms/2tvWy5I.

Michelle was using online ancestry websites to help try and find a DNA match. The police authorities were also using this method but not in the way you might think. They were using the websites the same way you or I would use them as they did not additional or special access to the databases. Companies who own these ancestry-type websites claim privacy laws won’t allow police to access their data for investigative purposes. Police authorities were able to connect Joseph DeAngelo to the case through the DNA of a relative on one of these ancestry websites.  Begging the question, should police have access to these types of DNA and ancestry websites for active investigations?

While I am disappointed with how unfinished this novel feels I am still glad to have read it as I am sure it will go down in true crime history. For those that are considering reading it, approach the book with the understanding that this is not the perfect novel that Michelle would have envisioned but appreciate the pieces of her that she left within in the novel and her admirable efforts to help track down and imprison this abominable killer.

Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

“The General will now enter the room.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Read from December 12, 2017 to December 15, 2017.

Who isn’t curious about North Korea? It is a strange and secretive country with an eccentric, peculiar, and potentially very dangerous leader that shuts out the world. How much of the North Korean propaganda is true? Are the people there truly sheltered and do they suffer? If you believe this defector and author of this memoir it will only make you hungry for more information on this fascinating country.

Jang Jin-Sung, a pseudonym for a North Korean man who was a famous and well-respected poet and government official. His life was much easier than many of his other friends and family due to his high ranking status. He was special as he was allowed into the small inner circle of people who got to meet their “Dear Leader” in person due to how well received his poetry was. Jin-Sung worked within The United Front Department (UFD) which is “responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policy-making and diplomacy” and in Jin-Sung’s job he was responsible for writing poetry and praise for North Korea under the facade of the praise coming from other countries, like South Korea. In order to do that, he was allowed to read South Korean newspapers and writings in order to keep with the style and approach of the writers there. The work was dangerous and highly controlled as with new ideas comes the idea that the North Korean regime is lesser. However, Jin-Sung began to question his “Dear Leader” after meeting him in person and after following a trail of dangerous thoughts and actions it eventually made him realise that he needed to defect or risk his life and potentially his whole family’s.

“I was restless with yearning to write realist poetry based on what I saw, and not loyalist poetry based on what we were all told to see.”

The harrowing description that Jin-Sung leaves an impoverished stifled and scared nation of people is hard to read. His escape is tragic and reads like a terrifying thriller that you are too afraid to look away from. I was completely engrossed in the story and was left hungry for more by the end. Books like this and others like them have come under scrutiny for their authenticity or have left many wondering how much was embellished for the sake of publications. It is almost easier to NOT believe that North Korea is a terrible as this book makes it sound as it is hard to fathom that so many people are living in such an oppressed and psychologically inhumane way. If this novel is as true as the author claims, it makes me thankful that my life is my own, that I have food in my belly, and that I express myself how I see fit.

“One reason why North Korea is unable to pursue reform and open itself more to the world is that this would risk exposing core dogmas of the state as mere fabrications.”

Whether you want to believe all, some or none of what is in this book you can’t deny the books high readability and enjoyability. In fact, this book made my top five favourite non-fiction reads of 2017 I enjoyed it so much. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, espionage, North Korea or memoirs. I can assure you that Jin-Sung’s story is not one you are likely to forget.

 

 

 

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

“Forgiveness is moving on. It is a daily act that looks forward. Forgiveness smiles.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 210 pages.
Read from February 20, 2018 to February 27, 2018.

This was the one book in the 2018 Canada Reads that I was most excited for. While the book started slow I was absolutely captivated by the brutal history of this family and was soon not able to put it down.

Sakamoto’s family has a rich, tragic and courageous history. His grandfather on his mother’s side, a white-Canadian from the east coast, joined the war efforts in WWII where he was captured in Hong Kong by the Japanese. He lived and suffered intensely for four years in POW camp. His grandmother, on his father’s side, is a Japanese-born Canadian. Sakamoto details the horrifying things that the Canadian government did to his grandmother’s family and the Japanese living in Canada during WWII, especially after the Pearl Harbour bombing. This is a part of history that most Canadians know little about or the brutality of what we did to our own people. I know I sure didn’t and it really opened my eyes. Canada is often viewed as an untainted and tolerant place to live but our own history is just as stained as others. Additionally, I imagine very few Canadians know of the regiments that served out in Hong Kong and the losing battle that they had to endure.

The book continues through Sakamoto’s family saga and the remarkable ability for his grandparents to forgive was a constant foundation in his life. Can you imagine when Sakamoto’s parents wanted to marry how that might have felt to their own parents? Each had suffered so much from each other’s different ethnicities and tet their powerful understanding, shared suffering, and ability to move forward is nothing short of courageous. Sakamoto also details the difficult upbringing he had with his alcoholic mother and how that shaped his future ambitions and responsibilities.

Mitsue Sakamoto, the author’s grandmother, Phyllis MacLean the author’s mother, Ralph MacLean, the author’s grandfather and Stan Sakamoto the author’s father in Medicine Hat Alberta in 1968. Source: The Daily Mail

Sakamoto’s story is highly emotional and I would be lying if I did not say I welled up in few parts.  The suffering and tenacity of his grandparents and even the death of his mother were hard to bear as a reader. Sakamoto really drew into some great emotional depth with his story-telling. The added pictures in the book were also a great touch as it really felt like you knew his family.

While I ended up loving this book, I did not start off feeling that way. The book had a slow start for me as I was initially unsure as to where this story or memoir was going. I found some of the initial story transitions to be a bit clunky, though once his grandfather set off for the war things smoothed out and the main theme of the story was starting to finally come together.  While I enjoyed the story of his upbringing and the suffering endured by him and his mother with her alcoholism it was a massive shift in the direction of the book. The book was now reading more like an autobiography. This disjointing and lack of connection from his grandparent’s story to his own story was not as successful as the rest of the emotionally enticing parts about his grandparents. While his own story is moving in its own right, the novel just did not feel like a complete whole on the theme of forgiveness.  Even with that,  I decided on a 4-star review instead of 3 for this book because of how the book made me feel and for how intently I could not stop reading certain portions.

As I currently live in Hong Kong, I found the parts of his grandfather’s time there especially interesting.  However, Sakamoto mentioned that Kowloon is part of the New Territories and part of mainland China, which isn’t correct. Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong and is its own district.  Since 1997, China has since reclaimed Hong Kong but it is technically still its own country and many locals would not be happy being referred to as mainland China! It was wonderful envisioning these areas that I know well and what they would have been like during the war.  As a Canadian, it was also intriguing to read about a battle that took place during WWII that I imagine many Canadians don’t know about. There are some historical museums and treks in Hong Kong that I am now anxious to partake in.

So far, I have read 3 out of the 5 books in the 2018 Canada Reads. Compared to The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo, this novel is definitely one to “open your eyes” as the horrors of the Canadian government during WWII and the part that those Canadian regiments played out in Hong Kong are remarkable and need to be known. The content of this novel is truly jaw-dropping and extremely relevant in the context of today’s racial issues and learning from our own past. As it stands, this novel best meets the criteria for the debate in my opinion but what will the final two books hold? We will soon find out…