Book Review COVID-19

This Korean Woman Reads: ‘East Side Voices’

Written By Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Yeon

“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Yeon, 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: “East side voices” is a collection of stories on British family, language and identity  during the Covid-19 pandemic. Written from the epicentre of white colonialism , this book celebrates our collective rationale for (quiet) outrage when difference is used to dilute our dignity.

Mood: Like making a good cup of tea, savour the brewing process in quiet stillness. Let the leaves steep a plenty. The words on the page give off a literary aroma that is gentle yet lasting. 

Pair with: The Joy Luck Club movie night with your girlfriends.

I received this book as a birthday gift. 

Image via Amazon

It was one of those wonderful surprises in the mail and it came from my friend Em who used to live in London and misses it dearly still. 

Em and I have shared our love of books since we met as twenty somethings, through a university leadership program no less (#overachievers #soasian). To be more precise, Em was a hard Alias Grace/ Margaret Atwood fan when we met and she helped me rediscover my love of English books again after leaving Korea as a monolingual reader. 

Em is now the proud owner of the Little Modern Reader in Australia (the first of its kind boutique used children’s book store, me thinks) and religiously (me hopes?) reads my book reviews.

I read it over nearly 12 months, taking the book with me on visits to my mother, on airbnb weekender holidays and most recently on my work trip to London. This well travelled book kept me in good company, mirroring my steadfast and nourishing friendship with Em.

Each time I picked it up to read, I would find a piece that reminded me of a special woman in my life – each a fierce battler in her own way, having made her mark in the world or in my life – through their journeys of migration, decolonisation and reclaiming that strength which will always be hers. As examples,

  • I see now that immigration is an act of creativity.” in Once Upon a Time in … Middlesex by Helena Lee (p17) made me think of Erin Wen Ai;
  • It occurs to me now that sword and word are only one letter apart.” in The White Series by Mary Jean Chan (p21) made me think of Mana Joy;
  • Confusingly (and not without pain), as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that love can be displayed through criticism; love disguised as concern.” in Ode to Obaa-chan by Naomi Shimada (p89) made me think of Noe san; and 
  • As a child, I wanted desperately to know her. To me, she was like a celestial being – familiar, ever present, but unreachable.” in Mothers and Daughters by Catherine Cho (p164) made me think…of the younger me.

Thank you, Em, for giving me this book which carried the chorus of 18 voices from the other side of the world to me. It will echo further in my circle of Women of Colour writers and creatives. And, like our shared love of reading, may our friendship be lifelong, as we journey and celebrate the legacy of difference in our identities.

Buy this book as a gift to: a) the special birthday girls in your life; b) the storytellers and storygather-ers; and c) the creative Londonphile Asians.

Coming to the end of this book 

Here’s to happy reading,

This Korean woman reads

You can follow Anna Yeon on Instagram by clicking on Annayeonwrites

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