The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

“He’s been extremely kind. He bought a huge flowerpot and planted me in it. On Sundays, he spends all morning sitting on the balcony threshold catching aphids.”

3/5 stars.
Online read, 28 pages.
Read on December 18, 2019.

Read the story for FREE here: https://granta.com/the-fruit-of-my-woman/

Since I can’t currently read any more novels in English by Han Kang, having read them all already, I’ll take what I can get.

This unique metamorphosis story set the stage for Han Kang’s The Vegetarianone of my all-time favourite novels. The story is narrated by the husband of a married couple. He starts to explain how his wife woke up one day with bruises that were not going away and continued to spread all over her body. He details the nuances of their marriage and some of her personal traits. As a reader, you begin to pick up on aspects of the marriage in which the woman might not be happy with as the husband is oblivious to his wife’s needs, desires, or wants. For the wife, marriage has not turned out how she expected it to be and as a result, the couple is not communicating well.

‘This isn’t living,’ she spat out, ‘it only looks like it.’ Her voice was edged with hostility, like a drunk’s slurring declamation, This country’s rotten through! ‘There’s no way anything could grow here, don’t you see? Not trapped here in this . . . in this stifling, deafening, place!’

As the bruises spread, the woman feels a pressing urge to sit naked outside in the sun. She slowly starts eating less and less as the bruises spread and deepen in colour. The doctors, of course, can find nothing wrong with her. Eventually, the husband comes home to find his wife stagnant on the floor gasping for water and from there, the wife slowly progresses into the form of a tree. The story switches narration to the wife and her thoughts as she progresses into her final form.

What makes this story remarkable is that you get both sides of this marriage and that in the end, the husband states that he had never seen his wife so beautiful. It’s as if, the wife, by finally letting go and growing into something vibrant and alive the husband finally comes to see the person that she really is and give her the care that she deserves.

Poetic, beautiful and extremely visceral, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith. If you haven’t read anything by Han Kang or are looking to try a book in translation I would highly recommend starting with this gorgeous short story.

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

“She was forty-five minutes late to work that day, but she had toast for breakfast. Goddamnit.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from February 18, 2020 to February 28 2020.

I guess I scheduled this wrong? Sorry it’s late! This is book number three for me of the five finalists from this year’s Canada Reads 2020. Radicalized is the one novel of four short stories in the final five this year. I better hurry up with the last two as the debates are approaching fast!

Each story in this novel is based around the characters doing something ‘radical’ in a futuristic or dystopian setting, hence the title. It’s an interesting look into what being radicalized means in our current society and political atmosphere.

Unauthorized Bread:  4/5 stars
A highly unique refugee story that highlights the difficulties of making it in a new country that doesn’t really want you. What makes this story so interesting is that in this futuristic setting, companies that make basic home appliances have patents on what can be used in them. For example, a toaster that can only process bread from the same company. A group of immigrants starts jailbreaking their appliances when the company goes bankrupt so that they continue to use them which could, in turn, result in them getting kicked out of the public housing tower that they worked so hard to get into. I really enjoyed the flow of this story and the development of the main character. The focus on the toaster and the ridiculous premise of only being able to use branded bread is not only entertaining but highlights some of the circumstances and frustrations that are not easily obvious to others or escapable for refugees.

Model Minority – 2/5 stars
A superhero story with a twist. Imagine that Superman started getting involved in some of the deep-seated racial issues between police and people of colour and then realising his help isn’t wanted. The white people don’t want him interfering with their system and some of the black people that he tries to help see him as someone who tries to do good but makes things worse. A great concept but I felt it wasn’t executed very well.

Radicalized – 5/5
This story was the one that really impressed me and would get me to read more by Doctorow. A normal family of three is devasted with the news that the wife has cancer. Despite paying a decent amount of money for health insurance the insurance company denies a treatment that might save her. The husband joins a Facebook group for people in a similar scenario to get some support as he struggles to cope. Miraculously, his wife goes into spontaneous remission and is completely cleared of her cancer. The husband continues to help and maintain the support group that helped him in his darkest hours. Unfortunately, as frustration and numbers in the group grow,  members of the group become radicalised and start bombing insurance offices. The man tries his best to stop members from committing the acts but also does nothing to report the acts he can see coming. This story really grabs you as you truly feel the plight of the family as you really lean towards the decisions that they make.

Masque of the Red Death –  3/5 stars
A rich dude builds the ultimate apocalypse bunker and carefully selects the people he wants to join him. A certain set of single women and people with other assets and connections. He enjoys building the bunker and treats the whole thing as a bit of a game as he strives to have the group see him as the ultimate leader. He has one rule for his group of people and it’s that they can bring no others. This, of course, will backfire on him.

I think what I liked most about this selection is that it touched on a variety of interesting issues and subjects, making it, in my opinion, one of best contenders to meet the 2020 Canada Reads theme of one book to bring Canada into focus. The book touches on some hot Canadian topics involving race, immigration, refugees, privilege, classism and privatized health care while also making for an engaging read. Out of the three books from the finalists I’ve read, this one is my current favourite. We will see how it stacks up against the last two.

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

“Well, we’re afeared. And what of it? Do we sit down and weep and tremble? Life must go on. And what will be, will be. What is destined can’t be avoided, in any case.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 375 pages.
Read from October 1, 2019 to October 13, 2019.

Anyone else confused on the order these books are supposed to be read in? Some of the books are published at later dates but fit earlier into the series. I’ve done a bit of research and I decided to go off this order:

The Last Wish
The Sword of Destiny
Blood of Elves
Time of Contempt
Baptism of Fire
The Tower of the Swallow
The Lady of the Lake
Season of Storms

So far it’s working out well in terms of the timeline as I am three books into the series. If you’ve found a different order for the books or don’t know where to start I would still highly recommend starting with the short stories before starting with the full-fledged novels as they add a lot of depth to the world and the characters. I’ve also managed to work my way through the first Witcher game and I am looking forward to making my way on to the other two soon.

Sword of Destiny follows the same formula as The Last Wish, in that it is a series of short stories that related closely to each other. From dryads to dragons, the world that Geralt lives in really starts to take shape in this novel. Geralt starts to take on quests that are for more than just money as the Sword of Destiny focuses more on Geralt’s character rather than on action scenes, which actually adds to the novel rather than take away from it. You start to learn about Geralt’s personal moral code and how he tries to fight the destiny laid out for him that connects him to a child princess named Ciri. You learn of Geralt’s complicated romance with an enchantress named Yennifer, as the two are more similar than they realise.

Was this book better than The Last Wish? No, but it was still a great read that expanded on the world and added character depth. I think it will be actually pretty difficult to top The Last Wish going forward in this series but I hope I am wrong.