Pachinko: A Potential Modern Masterpiece Falls Short

 

 

When I began reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, I initially thought this was the best book I have read so far this year. I had planned on writing a stellar book review. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of an impoverished sixteen-year-old girl named Sunja in 1930’s Korea. Sunja has a relationship with Hansu, a wealthy, powerful, older businessman who frequents her region. Sunja naively believes Hansu will marry her. Only when she gets pregnant and reveals she is carrying his child does she find out he is a married man who lives in Japan. Hansu, who has three daughters with his wife, wants Sunja to be his wife when he travels to Korea.  Knowing this is not honorable, Sunja rejects his offer for a much easier life and stays with her mother while they struggle to make ends meet. Soon, she meets Isak, a Korean missionary on his way to Japan to help build a church. Isak is willing to marry her and does not even question who fathered her child. He selflessly wants to give the unborn child a name. They move to Japan where Sunja gives birth to a son.

Unlike the first half of the book where the reader encounters characters living lives of quiet nobility, the second half is filled with vengeful and sexually depraved characters who wreak havoc. The writing is polished and author Lee offers beautiful imagery in her descriptions (“The sea was bluer than she had remembered, and the long, thin clouds seemed paler—everything seemed more vibrant with him here.”). But unfortunately, the characters go from Biblical in majesty to wreaking sensationalized tragedies. Lee spends too much time on the challenges of minor characters and transforms a few from kind and friendly to malicious in a single scene. The emphasis becomes Japanese racism of Koreans, depriving them of good careers and citizenship, despite their families having lived in Japan for generations. Lee never clearly explains what pachinko is, but I gather it is a gambling casino, one of the few jobs Koreans can work and make a decent living in Japan. By the end, the beauty of the story and its characters are lost and all the reader is left to contemplate is Japanese bigotry and foreign powers taking control of Korea itself, splitting the nation in half. Koreans in Japan no longer have their homes in Korea and those from the North who return end up starving to death. Thus, most have no choice but to endure the ongoing discrimination in Japan. An unsatisfying read after a remarkable beginning.

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Resources for a Writing Career

In my last blog post, I mentioned the the abundance of difficulties writers face getting published and adequately paid. But writers can find help in getting their writing careers started. Below is a list of resources that have helped guide me through the complicated landscape of the writing world:

 

  • Jane Friedman is a noted writer, editor, and speaker. She worked in the publishing industry for 20 years and now writes articles for Writer’s Digest and Publishers Weekly. Her newsletter, Electric Speed, gives updates on the writing world. Her website (https://www.janefriedman.com/) contains an abundance of resources. Friedman is upfront about what works and what doesn’t. Her latest book, The Business of Being a Writer, gives honest information and doesn’t candy-coat the challenges of writing. She offers advice for both self-published and traditionally published authors.

 

  • BookBaby (https://www.bookbaby.com/) is a self-publishing, book printing, and distribution company. They offer services to help an author publish, market, and distribute their book. There is a price for their services but they have a good reputation for helping guide authors. I haven’t used their services myself, but I did attend their writing conference in Philadelphia last year and listened as many industry experts gave presentations. BookBaby has also a newsletter.

 

  • Alliance of Independent Authors or ALLi (https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/) is an organization for self-published authors. I love their chart rating self-publishing author services. They also have a watchdog desk that monitors possible scams. They offer free booklets, discounts, and legal advice dealing with contracts and other issues. ALLi also offer free seminars.

 

  • Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA (https://www.ibpa-online.org/) is another organization that offers self-published authors services like discounts for marketing services and placement at book fairs and catalogs. They clarify the prevailing language  and procedures in the publishing world and offer writing and marketing webinars as well as advocacy. The IBPA partnered with BookBaby at the Philadelphia conference I attended last year.

 

 

  • Writer Beware (https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) is an Internet resource I refer to often. I receive so much information from so-called publishers, invitations to submit to writing contests, and book marketing programs that the first thing I always do is go on the Writer Beware website to find out if they are legitimate organizations based on other writers’ experiences . If Writer Beware gives them a thumbs-down, I don’t bother to investigate them any further.

 

I just want to add that while I struggle in my writing career, I still plug away. Like most writers, I know I have to be persistent if I hope to succeed. But these resources provide invaluable guidance in the writing field today.

 

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller novel intended to bring awareness to two issues: families dealing with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is available on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

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Grappling with the Harsh Realities of Being a Writer

 

I admit I never read the book but have always remembered the title: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

Oh, how I wish that were true for a writer!

But unfortunately, it isn’t. The reality is that most writers cannot make a living on their writing. They have to take on noncreative writing jobs like technical writing or work another job entirely and write on the side. This is as true now as it has been since time immemorial.

But still, deep frustration persists within me.

When a person trains as a nurse, they can make a decent living with nursing. When a carpenter trains in their profession, they can live on their earnings. So it is with a chef. And on and on.

But a writer, whether they receive a degree or learn through intensive studying, cannot make a living on writing. And as with all other professions, writing involves years of practice. Writers have to spend time learning the craft and staying on top of trends that interest current readers.  In addition, some forms of writing involve legwork and/or extensive research.

And for those yearning to make their mark through publication, tremendous obstacles abound.

Unless a person is blessed with miraculous good fortune, getting traditionally published normally takes years. Rejection is a way of life in this business. But today, writers are fortunate to have a chance to see their work in printed books through self-publishing. For me, since I did not want to go through the hurdles and years of rejection before getting traditionally published, which is always a big MAYBE, I decided to self-publish my first book, True Mercy. I don’t regret my choice, but many self-published writers do because they are many “publishing services” that help writers with the process of getting an author’s work to publication but they are also scam artists. You can go on the Internet or attend a writers’ conference to find stories of writers getting ripped off, losing the rights to their own work, and filing court complaints against self-publishing services. There are legitimate ones for sure, but if you are planning to enlist the services of one, proceed with caution and do your research.

Also, nobody can explain the ins and outs of the publishing world or where to submit a manuscript better than an agent. Yet again, unless a person receives divine intervention or has the luck of the Irish, it normally takes years to find an agent willing to take the chance of representing a writer who is neither a celebrity nor a prominent person with deep connections.

So, if your passion and vocation is writing, how can you face all of these tremendous obstacles?

In my next blog, I will make suggestions based on the advice of nationally-known writing and book marketing experts. As a struggling writer myself, one piece of advice I will give is despite being overwhelmingly difficult to make a living, don’t give up on your passion if that makes you happy. The joy one gets from writing shouldn’t be abandoned due to the lack of monetary reimbursement. The satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from composing compelling and/or entertaining literary work that gives pleasure to others has its own rewards.

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Book Review: Secret Lives of the First Ladies By Cormac O’Brien

 

Reading this book was certainly an entertaining experience.

The following are some tantalizing tidbits I read in the book:

  • Julia Tyler, President Tyler’s second wife, never went anywhere without her twelve “ladies-in-waiting.” The press derided them as “the Vestal Virgins.”
  • Margaret Taylor, wife of Zachary Taylor, actually prayed every night that her husband would not get elected President. She felt his health was not up to the job and she was proven right—he died after barely a year in office.
  • Eliza Johnson, wife of President Andrew Johnson, was so frugal that she even bought cows to graze on the White House lawn in order to provide fresh milk.
  • Lucy Hayes and her husband Rutherford Hayes were not exactly the fun-loving party types. They banned liquor in the White House, forbid card-playing, dancing, and even playing pool. Lucy filled the White House billiard room with plants.
  • Unlike most first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt had no interest in preparing elaborate meals for guests. In fact, when the king and queen of England came to visit Hyde Park, Eleanor served them hot dogs.

Reading through the book, I learned some shocking facts about Presidents:

  • President James Garfield was an unrepentant womanizer. He even had the gall to introduce his wife Lucretia to some of his mistresses. Talk about a miserable marriage.
  • As a husband, Lyndon Johnson was a dictator. For this I will quote the book: “Lady Bird was directed to shine his shoes, bring him breakfast in bed, keep his cigarette lighter filled, and more. . .He also insisted that she learn about his job, assigning her names, addresses, and other details to memorize. And as if all that weren’t challenging enough, she had to deal with the rumors about her husband’s extramarital affairs.” Poor Lady Bird!

There is much more to read in Secret Lives of the First Ladies. Every chapter gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of each first lady, giving a sense of their personalities and characters.

My one criticism: Author O’Brien is obviously not a Trump fan. His description of First Lady Melania was the only one that was downright unflattering. I didn’t appreciate the mud-slinging and lack of civility of today’s partisan politics in her description.

My two favorite lines:

Mamie Eisenhower once said, “Every woman over fifty should stay in bed until noon.”

When the magazine Parade printed a reader’s question about how much Barbara Bush weighed, it responded in an article that she was between 135 and 145 pounds. After hearing about the magazine’s answer, Barbara, who tended to be on the heavy side and had a good sense of humor, joked in a speech immediately after the article was published, “Just for starters, I was born weighing 135 pounds.”

Tempted to read yet?

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Thai Cave Rescue: Finally, News to Inspire

Photographer: Adam Sherez

I have a voracious appetite for keeping up with the news, but after days of reading or watching TV following Meghan Markle breaking royal protocol by crossing her legs at public events and the continual mud-slinging of the country’s politicians, it was refreshing to read about the dramatic rescue of the 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach who were trapped in a cave for over two weeks in Thailand.

Like most people, I read the articles and watched the news with growing trepidation about their chances of rescue after being trapped while under threat from heavy rains flooding the cave and their dependence on oxygen tanks. The soccer team was exploring a cave after soccer practice, and since it was rainy season in Thailand, a downpour flooded the tunnels and they became trapped. Oxygen tanks and food and water were brought down while rescue crews worked tirelessly to keep them alive while planning their rescue.

A few days ago a former Thai navy diver died while attempting to bring oxygen supplies down to the cave. Unfortunately, his own oxygen supply ran out. At that point their fate looked bleak.

But on Tuesday, while reading about which NBA players were likely going to stay on their teams and which may be traded and Kim Kardashian’s little daughter North West making her fashion debut, I was happy and relieved to find out that all thirteen young men were rescued. And even more heartwarming, it was an international effort—divers and other help came from Britain, the US, Australia, and Israel along with the Thai Navy SEALS.

While I don’t wish for anyone to be in danger and in need of rescue, it was certainly a story of substance and encouragement. Apparently, others thought so as well. A Hollywood movie producer and a major publisher have expressed interest in bringing their story to the public.

Clearly, this was a news item that touched our spirits and gave us the inspiration we all crave.

RIP Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy seal, who passed away in his valiant attempt to rescue the boys.

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