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.

Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

“A baptism of fire, the Witcher thought, furiously striking and parrying blows. I was meant to pass through fire for Ciri. And I’m passing through fire in a battle which is of no interest to me at all. Which I don’t understand in any way. The fire that was meant to purify me is just scorching my hair and face.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 15, 2021 to March 22, 2021.

Next to The Last Wish, this has been my favourite Witcher book in the series so far.

Geralt has found himself in quite a predicament. He almost died after the Wizard’s Guild fell and has been separated from Ciri. He is recovering from his injuries in the Brokilon forest, of which he is a rare male exemption amongst the female dryads. While Geralt is nowhere near healed, he must find Ciri as rumours are circulating of her capture and impending marriage to the Emperor. Little does he know that the Ciri in the Niflgaardian court is an imposter. The real Ciri has found the company of thieves and has managed to keep her identity a secret, for now. Despite Geralt’s desperate situation he attempts to maintain his gruff lone wolf mentality by trying to shrug off some very unique companions as well as finding himself involved in a battle he wanted no part in.

The story in this book really revived the series for me and makes me want to replay and rewatch the games and TV show (especially before the second season starts this Christmas). Geralt is a stubborn brute and I love him for it. The character work and Geralt’s internal conflict in questioning who he is a Witcher and what he stands for as well as his interactions with his new, and generally unwanted, companions that stick with him through thick and thin are what make this book one of the best in the series. His new companions are robust and dynamic characters that I fell in love with immediately and the surprise reveal of one of them really caught me and had me loving and appreciating this story even more.

The books, games and TV shows are each such innovative takes on Geralt’s path and the Witcher world. With any other series, I might be annoyed at the discrepancies and inconsistencies with character appearances and the chosen focused storylines, however, with the Witcher I’ve really enjoyed each medium’s differing takes on Geralt’s story, the characters that he meets, and the trouble he finds himself in.

A highly recommended read for fantasy lovers, it’s definitely worth reading the whole series just to get to this book. Here’s hoping the next book continues to impress.