Book Reviews: The Best And Worst Of October

If the world knows one thing about me already, it is probably this. But on the chance that a stranger falls out of the blogosphere and somehow lands here, I will make it super-duper clear: I read.

Lots.

Every day.

I. Love. Books.

Reviewing books? Err… not so much.

Nonetheless, I’ve buried myself in an interesting title or two of late, and sharing these literary discoveries feels right.

Thanks to Goodreads tracking these things for me, I can reliably inform you that I read six books in the month of October. I do not have legitimate reviews for all of them. Or even most of them. But here is the best I can conjure:

The Way West, by AB Guthrie Jr.

I don’t do westerns, in general, but chose to give this one a try. It’s about a wagon train on the Oregon Trail, and someone has had a slight obsession with the Oregon Trail since childhood. At this time, I can neither confirm nor deny that the someone in question is me. Coughs.

Anyway. I guess there is a reason I don’t often delve into this genre. Not that there is anything the matter with it, or with this book in particular. It was readable. But I did not enjoy it. Guthrie’s style is so… masculine. Eloquent at times, yes. But masculine. A macho, manly-man type masculine. It was as if, on every page, the words turn this way and that, flexing their muscles, careless of not having bathed in a week.

Certain chapters are written from the point of view of female characters, too. Just picture me like so during those bits:

giphy

Let’s not dwell on it.

Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea To Freedom In The West, by Blaine Harden

It is good to learn about North Korea. Especially on days you’re inclined to be cranky and dissatisfied with life. It makes complaining a lot more difficult. Any day you don’t get a finger chopped off for dropping a sewing machine? That’s a good day, folks.

The story probably deserves more illumination than I’m giving it just now, but this is what I learned.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, by Nabeel Qureshi

Sad and powerful and educational and inspiring. My only regret is that it took Qureshi’s death to call my attention to his writing.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo

And now, for something completely different…

The tale of a lost china rabbit who passes from one owner to another and learns to love in the process.

Yes, I cried. Due to some tragical personal circumstances of the past, I have a tender spot for stories about lost toys. Sniffs.

At least this one has a happy ending.

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With The Sons Of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim

Yep. More North Korean non-fiction stuff.

This book was quite distinct from the others I’ve read about this country, which were all stories of defectors. This one is about an American who spends months among North Korea’s most “privileged” young men as an English teacher.

Fascinating premise, right?

Some of the book holds up to this promise. Learning about these youths and the way they view the world (not to mention how some of those views were challenged) was an eye-opening and heart-breaking experience. It was impossible not to ache for them, for all the things they can’t know, and for the paths their lives are likely to follow.

Alas. There is an undercurrent running through the pages that poisoned the whole reading for me, and it had nothing to do with the tragedy that is North Korea. The problem here is the author herself.

Miss Kim was able to do what she did (sneak into NK as a teacher with the express purpose of putting her findings into a book) with the aid of a missionary group. It was her attitude towards these missionaries and their faith (which also happens to be my faith) that troubled me.

Kim openly admits to not understanding Christian beliefs, and having never read a Bible. Despite this, she repeatedly compares the faith of her missionary colleagues to the indoctrinated devotion of her students to their dictator. Early on, there is a flippant suggestion that the missionaries are really only there because saving souls in North Korea will earn them a place in heaven. Her attitude towards these Christians (people she lived and worked alongside for months) struck me as very condescending in general.

The style of the book isn’t altogether journalistic, but I still would have expected (and appreciated) a little more objectivity. I do not expect everyone to share my beliefs, or even to respect them. But somehow it really chafed to see them so haphazardly misconstrued.

On the bright side, it did give me an idea for some possible future blog posts. I call that redemption. Woop!

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise To Bring Home The Lost Children Of Nepal, by Conor Grennan

If Without You, There is No Us was the worst of the month, then Little Princes is the best.

It’s about an orphanage in war-torn Nepal, full of children who turn out NOT to be orphans. From the publisher’s description:

Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war – for a huge fee – by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

The story really gets going when the author makes it his mission to find the families of these lost children, and reconnect them.

I laughed. And cried, again (but I dare you to read this one and not get at least a little misty at the end).

Tragic, endearing, hilarious. This is the one I recommend.

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