An Easy Accomplishment or Two

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.  

Evil Corp

In fiction and movies, when it comes to finding a reason for all the nastiness in the world (especially in a Science Fiction setting) I’ve always preferred the Evil Corporation being the responsible party.  Whether it is the suits from the Tyrell Corporation (More Human Than Human) or Weyland-Yutani (Building Better Worlds) delivering the lines, it always seems appropriate. You could argue, however, that the dastardly company is a bit of a worn-out theme at this point. If so, let me introduce you to two excellent books I recently read that breathe new life into the idea, with slightly different takes on corporations gone wrong.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada

Told from the perspective of three newly hired employees, The Factory presents a slightly surreal, but definitely disturbing, view of a behemoth corporation and its ability to indoctrinate those who work for it. What the company produces exactly is never spelled out. Also, the protagonists have some rather odd jobs: Yoshio is tasked with the ‘green roof project,’ but is the only person in the department, is given no direction, and ends up leading a children’s ‘moss hunt’ as his primary task. Ushiyama is a proofreader of obscure company documents, but the editing is all done by hand and not checked for accuracy. And Yoshiko is a ‘professional shredder,’ who simply shreds documents, all day every day. As they continue to work at the factory, all three slowly begin to accept the illogic and absurdity of their tasks, and the company itself. So much so that the appearance of a huge flock of flightless black birds produced in the company labs and a middle-aged man known as the Forest Pantser terrorizing the company campus, just seem like another day at the office.

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

In a near future where the climate is heating up fast and resources are dwindling, the Cloud corporation is the largest in the world. Not only does it have a monopoly on almost all retail commerce (items delivered by drone straight to you) it is fast replacing government and is almost the only source of jobs. Those who do work for Cloud are housed in huge complexes, called Mother Clouds, must wear colored polo shirts that designate where they work, and have their movements tracked via Cloud Bands which are worn on the wrist. The story is told through three distinctive viewpoints: Paxton, who’s business was destroyed by Cloud, and now works in security; Zinnia, a corporate spy who is working undercover on the floor of the warehouse; and Gibson, the founder of Cloud who is on a farewell tour of all the Mother Clouds in the country. All three characters are far from caricatures and challenge your sense of sympathy and condemnation. This combined with the all too real comparisons to our present corporate and environmental landscape, make this a compelling and disturbing read.

So, I hope you will take a look at these excellent books featuring evil corporations. If not well… I made a decision and it was…wrong. It was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call.