Like last month, I only read two full books in February, although I’m a good portion of the way through two other books which I’m reading at the moment. The pace of my reading has slowed, and I usually only fit a few chapters in during an evening. We’ll see if this ‘two books a month’ average continues through the year. I hope not, as there is so much that I want to read and I’ll fall behind!
Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks was my first February read. It’s a slim novel which looks at the past of a retired doctor, Robert Hendricks. The book moves between his present-day life as a retired doctor in the 1980s, his experiences in the trenches of World War II and, later, his work as a psychiatrist in the 1960s.
The plot is hinged on a letter that our protagonist receives from a mysterious stranger, retired neurosurgeon Alexander Pereira, who invites him to a small island on the south coast of France. There, Hendricks confronts aspects of his past, and his father’s suffering in the First World War. The traumas of the twentieth century are never far from the surface.It’s a very introspective novel and you see everything through the perspective of Hendricks, who is also the narrator. This is Faulks’s thirteenth novel and like several of his others, it was a bestseller. However, I found it rather cold and I couldn’t find much to like or dislike about the main character. While the war scenes are certainly visceral to read and the novel is well-researched, overall it was an unexceptional read for me and it didn’t stay with me after I turned the last page.
Reading The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, my next book in February, was a different experience. I really enjoyed reading this story of a young man, Anil Patel, who grows up in a remote Indian village and emigrates to the U.S. to train as a doctor.
As the first person in his family to go to university, he is under pressure from his family’s expectations back home. Anil also faces the challenges of settling in a new country with a culture that’s very different to his birthplace as well as the professional challenges of his medical residency in a fast-paced Dallas hospital.
Meanwhile, 8,000 miles away in India, one of Anil’s childhood friends, Leena, is about to enter an arranged marriage which will have terrible consequences.
The themes of acculturation, identity, family, love and a longing for home, wherever that may be, are all woven into this absorbing book. It was a quick, easy read and I enjoyed the author’s style of writing. Her characters are believable, I was drawn into their lives and I found it easy to empathize with them.
I’m midway through two other books, which I’ll review in March. One of them is Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. It’s a new biography of Jane Austen and will, no doubt, be one of many Austen-related titles published in 2017: the 200th anniversary of this beloved author’s death. I’ve read several Austen biographies and many of the facts of her life are familiar to me, but I’m enjoying Worsley’s chummy style.
I also started using my Kindle again this month after not really bothering with it for a while (yes, I still prefer physical books), and I managed to get an advance reader copy of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee from Netgalley.
Pachinko is a family saga which begins in Japan-occupied Korea in the early 1900s and spans eight decades of the twentieth century, following four generations of the same family. The novel begins with Sunja, a young girl who becomes pregnant by a yakuza — a Japanese gangster. When a Christian minister, Isak, offers to marry her, he saves her from being a societal outcast as a unmarried mother and takes her to start a new life in Japan.
One of my informal reading goals is to read more widely and reading Pachinko is giving me an insight into the history of a culture that I really don’t know much about. Before I read this book, I didn’t realize that Korea was under Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945 and how badly the Korean people were treated in Japan at that time, living in segregated ghettos and being treated as second-class citizens. It’s an eye-opening read!
Min Jin Lee has also written Free Food for Millionaires, a story about Korean immigrants in Queens, New York City. Based on my enjoyment of Pachinko, I think I’m going to add that title to my bookshelf too.
What did you read in February? Do you think you would enjoy any of the titles I reviewed?