Written By Guest Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Song
“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Song, who will be writing for the site reviewing books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Australia and from other parts of the world.
Headlines: Welcome to the future of literature! This award winning fiction tells an old tale of our unbreakable bond to each other, using the English language in a most contemporary way.
Mood: Hope for humanity
Pair with: a glass of freshly squeezed juice of vibrant colours, plus a shot of good quality dark rum (optional)
The book industry doesn’t consider Black and Asian people to be readers. This piercing insight from author, professor and first black woman winner of the Booker Prize 2019 Bernadine Evaristo shot through me like lightning. She revealed to me a known but unsaid assumption: (People of Colour) migrant writing is read by migrants and migrants don’t read. It is a precarious investment for publishers and booksellers.
I had been talking to fellow Asian Australian writers, corporate and government leaders about how ‘migrant writing’ is still framed as “rite of passage” stories, still “rising and emerging” instead of established as part of Australian culture and as part of our literature. But I was getting ahead of myself. To be part of the literary fabric weaved into this society’s storytelling, Asian Australians have to be more than good writers. We have to be voracious readers.
So the idea for this book review column was born, aptly titled to introduce who I am and what I do. People ask me for Korean BBQ restaurant recommendations, and K drama lines and K pop lyrics are serenaded to me without invitation. Eyes study my skin asking what K Beauty products I use. To all these, I happily answer. But what I wish to recommend most are books! Magnificent writing that transforms the mind and nourishes the soul. Besides, isn’t good taste in literature a prerequisite to being chic?
Girl, Women, Other was first mentioned to me at a house interview. A friend of a friend wanted to rent my spare room and she told me about this amazing book her mother had put her onto. It’s about 12 women’s lives, it’s about feminism, it’s won the Booker. She sold me on the book and I gave her the room.
You might want to start by reading the chapter ‘Yazz’ if you have just come out of your teenage years and/or have migrant parents who by society’s measures are considered ‘cool’ (but you beg to differ). Or read ‘Dominique’ first if you believe in love at first sight, with a twist. Flip to ‘Carole’ if you are climbing the corporate ladder and/or have ever worn uncomfortable shoes to work and/or have met Baroness Valerie Amos, former British High Commissioner to Australia (me: yes, yes, and yes, I am shamelessly name dropping). If you are a former bureaucrat like me, page one with ‘Amma’ is where the reading should begin and I would advise this to be the second chapter if you started elsewhere.
There are triggers in this book for those affected by rape, violence, neglect, rejection and betrayal. To me, Evaristo’s intentions are not to inflict further suffering by reminding her readers of the harms that come our way, but to ensure that storytelling honours honesty in our life stories. Her depictions of pain are not Tarantino-esque; rather, her work as a poet shines through and I found relief in the sparseness of her words and the empty spaces left on the page.
Buy this book as a gift to: a) a man in your life about to become a father of daughter(s); b) a colleague about to launch a new life in London (bonus points if they work in theatre, education, academia, politics or publishing); and c) a friend who has confided in you about their transition in gender and identity and you are struggling to show how much you care.
Upon finishing this book, I didn’t feel a sadness of farewell like I do with the other great books. Instead, turning to the last page of Girl, Women, Other, I knew that these women’s stories would stay with me for a long time. They would walk with me along the treacherous path towards equality and dignity. They would remind me that, thanks to them and writers like Evaristo, ‘my crown has been bought and paid for. All I have to do is wear it.’
Here’s to happy reading,
This Korean woman reads
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