Tuesday, June 28, 2011

For October: Your Republic is Calling You by Young-ha Kim

Your Republic Is Calling You
For September, we have selected Your Republic Is Calling You by Young-ha Kim,
A foreign film importer, Gi-yeong is a family man with a wife and daughter. An aficionado of Heineken, soccer, and sushi, he is also a North Korean spy who has been living among his enemies for twenty-one years.
Suddenly he receives a mysterious email, a directive seemingly from the home office. He has one day to return to headquarters. He hasn’t heard from anyone in over ten years. Why is he being called back now? Is this message really from Pyongyang? Is he returning to receive new orders or to be executed for a lack of diligence? Has someone in the South discovered his secret identity? Is this a trap? 
Spanning the course of one day, Your Republic Is Calling You is an emotionally taut, psychologically astute, haunting novel that reveals the depth of one particularly gripping family secret and the way in which we sometimes never really know the people we love. Confronting moral questions on small and large scales, it mines the political and cultural transformations that have transformed South Korea since the 1980s. A lament for the fate of a certain kind of man and a certain kind of manhood, it is ultimately a searing study of the long and insidious effects of dividing a nation in two.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Our June Author: Irène Némirovsky

Suite Francaise This month we are reading Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky who was living in Nazi-occupied France when she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died. Her last, unfinished novel, Suite Francaise, was discovered and published only recently.

We have a few online resources on our author to supplement discussion of the novel. The Museum of Jewish Heritage offers an online exhibition Woman of Letters: Irene Nemirovsky & Suite Francaise where you can 'open her valise' and examine a few Némirovsky artifacts, review an interactive timeline, and even page through a mock up of the manuscript of the novel.  Here's an introduction to the author produced by the museum:

Irene Nemirovsky from Sarah Josephson on Vimeo.

You can also watch a video introduction to the exhibit and the museum also provides this short video excerpt of a talk by Némirovsky's daughter Denise Epstein with translator Sandra Smith. A longer interview with Epstein and Smith (with better audio quality) is available from WAMU. Another book talk with some good background and insights can be found in this presentation by Sandra Smith and a French lit professor.

Some critics (see here, for example) have raised questions about the lack of Jewish characters in Suite Francaise and the negative depiction of Jewish characters in some of Némirovsky's other writing. The New York Times and The Guardian detail the controversy. Harvard professor Susan Rubin Suleiman takes on the question in a lecture, “Irène Némirovsky and the “Jewish Question” in Interwar France” available from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website (scroll down for the audio player-- the lecture is also available for download via iTunes).
The Life of Irene Nemirovsky: 1903-1942

Many readers of Suite Francaise find Irène Némirovsky's life as interesting as her novel and want to know more. You may want to check out the recent biograpy The Life of Irène Némirovsky: 1903-1942 referenced in the above mentioned NYT article.  There's also a thorough review at Three Percent.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

For September: Enemies of the People by Kati Marton

Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to AmericaFor September we have selected Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton,
"You are opening a Pandora's box," Marton was warned when she filed for her family's secret police fi les in Budapest. But her family history -- during both the Nazi and the Communist periods -- was too full of shadows. The files revealed terrifying truths: secret love aff airs, betrayals inside the family circle, torture and brutalities alongside acts of stunning courage -- and, above all, deep family love. 
In this true-life thriller, Kati Marton, an accomplished journalist, exposes the cruel mechanics of the Communist Terror State, using the secret police files on her journalist parents as well as dozens of interviews that reveal how her family was spied on and betrayed by friends and colleagues, and even their children's babysitter. In this moving and brave memoir, Marton searches for and finds her parents, and love.
Marton relates her eyewitness account of her mother's and father's arrests in Cold War Budapest and the terrible separation that followed. She describes the pain her parents endured in prison -- isolated from each other and their children. She reveals the secret war between Washington and Moscow, in which Marton and her family were pawns in a much larger game.
By the acclaimed author of The Great Escape, Enemies of the People is a tour de force, an important work of history as it was lived, a narrative of multiple betrayals on both sides of the Cold War that ends with triumph and a new beginning in America.
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