Review: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

I didn’t intend to see Snape parallels when I picked up this book, but they’re plentiful.  The narration alternates between a middle-school Korean girl, Sun-hee, and her young adult brother as they live with their parents through Japan’s colonization of Korea during World War II.  The story is set a decade or two after the events of Fantastic Beasts:  The Crimes of Grindelwald, but Japan was already occupying Korea by then, so it does provide some context for anyone who saw Claudia Kim’s Nagini and wondered what life might have been like for a young Korean woman at that time.

Literacy and reading are at the core of this resistance story.  Sun-hee’s uncle goes into hiding and runs an underground printing press.  The Japanese army sends people to search Korean homes for seditious writings, and of course all post is monitored.  Sun-hee’s brother tells her that when he writes her letters, she must learn to read between the lines.  The most thrilling passages of this suspenseful book come when we witness Sun-hee becoming an expert close reader.  It’s a beautiful example of fiction that demonstrates how close reading is one of the most essential skills for survival.

As for the Snapeyness of this book:  Sometimes, what looks like acquiescence or collaboration may not be.  Sometimes, personal friendships can survive bad politics.  Sometimes, people commit themselves to resistance while knowing that they will be thought, in life and even after death, to be collaborators or traitors.  You don’t always have to lose faith in your loved ones.  Sometimes it’s not safe for them to tell you everything they’re doing.

Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was thrill after thrill. It gave me something I have not often encountered: ancient Greek mythological stories that were new to me. I did not know what happened after the Odyssey and its strangely unsated ending. As I learned the story in this book bit by bit, I felt elated. I felt rightness and relief, the same as I recall feeling when I first encountered stories of Iphigeneia in Aulis or Helen in Egypt.

It was fun to read this book as a break before heading into the preparatory work for writing the second edition of my Snape book, since there are so many resonances with the Harry Potter stories and Snape in particular. Circe is a potions mistress extraordinaire! And she slowly wears herself into shape with regrets and penances, and comes into her own power.

I enjoyed the different men that this author gave Circe to be her lovers. I loved the ones that she loved.

Even more, I enjoyed reading the account of how taxing it was for Circe to parent an infant and then a gifted child. Even for a witch, solo parenting was a full-time job and she got nothing else done for years! I laughed.

Of all the enchanting moments in this book, my favorite was a gift that one character gives another, fairly early on. I gasped with happiness when I read of it.

I ate the book in a day, but I was glad to find that it kept giving new twists until the very end. I was afraid it would feel too short and I would feel bereft to let it go, but it was so satisfying that I did not.