Do you enjoy that sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a book, but don’t have the time to dig into a 500 page saga? Also, do you like reading books in translation and exploring a different culture and country? If, like me, you seek out these types of books, I’ve got two great works of fiction to recommend that satisfy both criteria at once. They are novellas, coming in at the 100 page mark, and are written by authors that hail from Japan and South Korea respectively. Most importantly, they are excellent and intriguing books well worth your, perhaps limited, reading time. Read on to learn more.
The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada
The plot seems innocuous enough. Asa’s husband has received a promotion and is transferred to a small country town, that happens to be where he grew up. She has only been doing unsatisfying temporary work in the city, so doesn’t mind going with him and starting a new life in the country. But soon her lack of employment and growing isolation, coupled with an unbearable summer heat wave, combine to make things, well… a little weird. Not only in her day to day life, but in the natural world around her.
Oyamada has a unique writing style that is elegant, yet deceptively simple and straightforward. Reason is never abandoned, even when events become a bit surreal. I appreciate this. It allows for multiple interpretations and trusts the reader to decide whether events are actually happening, or are in the protagonist’s head. The author, as in her previous work The Factory, also effectively shows the bizarre and often isolating effects of corporate culture on the individual. Especially for those having to deal with the current economic reality.
Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah
Told in a series of reflections, the unnamed narrator of this work goes back and forth through time, but mostly tells the tale of her life in 1988 when she was in her early twenties. She is supporting her family by working two temporary dead end jobs and dealing with an alcoholic mother, a distant brother and an absentee father. She is also expected to eventually marry her high school boyfriend, who seems to need as much support as everyone else in her life. The narrator is not a conformist, however. Much of the novel deals with her inability to understand others’ acquiescence; eventually leading to her deviation from and rejection of the role set aside for her.
Suah’s writing style is sparse and at times matter of fact, but still comes of as a stream of consciousness narrative. The characters innermost thoughts pile one on top of the other, reflecting her ambivalence: not only about the world she finds herself in, but also her own mental state. Her descriptions of the surroundings she inhabits reflect this as well. Whether in a crowded urban street or a desolate country field all is cold, stark and easy to get lost in.