Finished two books, started two more!

Post illustration created by Dall-E.

I finished 홍학의 자리 by 정해연, and it was excellent! I read it as part of the #22tlreadingchallenge, and I really recommend it to fans murder mysteries and crime investigations.

When I finish a book, I often like to have a look at the reviews posted by readers. For 홍학의 자리, I found people saying that they were disappointed by the “shocking twist” promised by the publisher.

The commercial banner for the book promises a 충격 반전 (shocking twist) and warns that 스포 절대 금지! (Spoilers are strictly prohibited!). It advertises a 전무후무한 반전과 예측 불가능한 결말 (a twist never seen before and an ending impossible to predict) and adds again that this is 최고의 반전 소설 (the best novel with a twist).

I understand that publishers have to advertise their books, but they sometimes tend to promise more than the book (which can be a really good book) was meant to deliver.

If you read 홍학의 자리 for the big twist, I guess you might be disappointed. It sure takes you by surprise, but it is not shocking in the sense that you see the whole novel in a different light, that you immediately flip back pages to re-read passages, and that suddenly, the whole murder case takes a different meaning. It is strangely not really related to the case, and does not feel necessary at all.

This is clearly not the best novel with a twist that I have read, but it is without a doubt one of the most entertaining and engrossing murder investigation that I have read in Korean or Japanese. I did start to have a good idea of what happened at some point, but I did not get everything right and some elements of the end did surprise me.

The novel is also really easy to read, it definitely belongs to the list of easiest books that I have read in Korean. I really loved how the chapters alternate between our protagonist (who finds himself in a very awkward position and has to find a way out of it) and the police detectives (who are really good, it was really a joy to follow their investigation). The chapter are also short, the story has a good pace and the book is a real page-turner. I think that all of this is good enough! It is a shame that the publisher focuses on the twist as if it was the best part of the book.

I also finished 妄想銀行 by Shinichi Hoshi (星新一) and loved it. These are SF short short stories, with an average length of 10 pages. I read this book in my project of reading all the available winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, and this one won the prize in 1968.

I must say that I am very surprised that this book should have been eligible for the prize. I guess you could give a very loose definition of “mystery” and say that some of the short short stories in this collection have elements that connect them to the genre, but I am still surprised. All the winners that I have read so far strictly belong to the crime genre and are exactly the books that I expected to find.

I looked at their website to see if there was an explanation but did not find one. However, Shinichi Hoshi’s testimony on receiving the prize is quite funny:

I will not hide that I am a little worried, because I don’t really like SF and I hope that not too many prize winners belong to this genre. Unfortunately, the prize winner of 1974 is 日本沈没 by Sakyo Komatsu (小松左京) 😱 I really don’t feel like reading this novel to be honest. First, again, I don’t love SF. Then, I am afraid that Japan Sinks will be quite difficult to read. And finally, it is relatively long.

I made it a point of honour to read all the books that I could find and to finish them (even the ones that I did not like), but here I will have to skip.

I read Sakyo Komatsu’s testimony, and he says that he was very surprised when he won the prize and immediately telephoned Shinichi Hoshi, who was the first SF writer to have won the award:


In any case, I hope that there won’t be too many SF works among the list of winners. Surely, there are prizes for SF as well. I find it a little bit unfair to give the mystery prize to great works of SF instead of rewarding authors of mystery novels 🤔

Speaking of winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan award, I started 乱れからくり by Tsumao Awasaka (泡坂妻夫). It won the prize in 1978.

I am trying to read the winners in chronological order to see how the genre has evolved over the years, but I made an exception here. Most of the earlier winners were out of print, and it was impossible for me to find them in paper. As a result, I read them digitally, either on Booklive when available there, or on Bookwalker (If I am given the choice, I prefer Booklive, but some titles were only available on Bookwalker). Now that I am reaching the 1970s, more and more books are available in paper, so I browsed the titles and bought a bunch of them:

I am a bit tired of reading digitally, and when I received my books, I could not wait to start one, even though this means that I am jumping from 1968 to 1978. I will catch up with the others later 🙂

I am almost halfway through 乱れからくり and I am not sure that I am liking it. Something just happened that will certainly boost the story, so hopefully the second half will be more exciting than the first one. It is not bad at all, but I find it hard to connect with the characters and understand some of their actions. The tone is also on the lighter side, whereas I prefer more realistic and serious murder stories. We’ll see! I hope to finish it this month.

Finally, I started another book for the #22tlreadingchallenge: 재생 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop). The wrapping band says that it is a 좀비 타임루프 그릴러 (zombie time loop thriller), and it is exactly that! It reminds me of the film Happy Death Day, except that the day resets when the protagonist is bitten by a zombie instead of being killed.

I like zombie films, but I have rarely read novels about zombies. This one is really good, with really good scenes, a good dose of humour too, and the time loop makes things really exciting. It would be great if this novel received a movie adaptation.

외국 영화나 드라마의 좀비들은 느릿한 편이었지만 뭐든 빨리빨리 움직이는 한국에서는 좀비조차도 빨라다.

I am not quite halfway through the book, but I can already recommend it as very entertaining and easy to read. 홍학의 자리 is also on the easy side, but I would say that 재생 is even easier, with the time loop mechanism leading to a lot of recurring vocabulary.

That’s it for now, hopefully I can finish these two last books this month!

Currently reading: one easy and one difficult book

Starting now, I have decided to use DALL-E to illustrate my blog. I used to draw my own illustrations, but it took me too much time, and I started updating my blog less and less because of that.

Now that I don’t have to worry about the drawing part, I will try to post more often. I have decided to replace my monthly wrap-ups with smaller but more regular updates like this one 🙂

Post illustration created by DALL-E.

#22tlreadingchallenge (check out the prompts here)

I am halfway through 홍학의 자리 by 정해연 (Jeong Haeyeon), and it feels really good to finally have a Korean mystery that is both very entertaining and very easy to read. I rarely have to look up words, the reading is smooth, and I can read a bit faster than I usually do with Korean.

The story is quite simple, but it contains everything to make me happy: a good murder, a protagonist who finds himself in an awkward position, police detectives who are actually good, an engrossing investigation and all along, the question “but who killed Dahyeon?”

Let’s hope that the second half will be as good as the first one!

그런데 다현은, 누가 죽였을까?

It was with this kind of book in Japanese that I managed to improve my reading level. Looking at Japanese publications, it was easy to find engrossing mystery novels that were easy to read.

I find it much harder to find Korean mysteries that are similar. They are either engrossing but much too difficult (and they leave me with the impression that my Korean level is too low to read novels), or easy enough but with a story that is not for me.

홍학의 자리 is really the perfect book to me, I wish that I had found more books like this one when I started reading in Korean. I’ll check this author’s other books as well!

Interesting vocabulary
I learned a new word in this novel: 효도폰 (孝道phone), a phone mainly used by elderly people with functions limited to the important tasks like calling someone in case of emergency, communicating with family members, etc. They are meant to be easy to use, with a simpler display. They are generally given by the children to their elderly parents (hence the name “filial piety phone”), but as they are cheaper and not always of good quality, the term 불효폰 (不孝phone) has also appeared to describe them.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award winners – reading project.

On the contrary, the book I am reading in Japanese at the moment is quite difficult to read. Even though my Japanese is better than my Korean, I struggle more with 腐食の構造 by Seiichi Morimura (森村誠一) than with 홍학의 자리. The book is very long (over 600 pages), and the author goes in a lot of detail to explain the tensions between the scientific, political and business world about nuclear power. It is interesting but difficult, and I find that the way information is delivered to the reader is a bit dry.

Instead of being blended with the story, explanations are given in lengthy passages that are difficult to read in Japanese, but also feel like you are reading a non fiction book on nuclear energy and the development of big trading companies in Japan. There is a passage where the author quotes a specialised book (総合商社 by 内田勝敏), which feels really weird in a novel.

Things more directly related to the story are also described in a lot of detail. I just finished a chapter that gives a lot of geographical information. I try to understand as much as I can, but I am also not too worried if I miss details.

I found that the book started strong and seemed interesting, but now I find it a bit slow and not providing enough enjoyment to make up for all the efforts I need to provide in order to read it.

I don’t think that I will finish this book this month, and I will start other Japanese books in parallel as well. My goal now is to focus on finishing 홍학의 자리 and 妄想銀行 by Shinichi Hoshi (星新一), another MWJ award winner that I started at the beginning of October.

September readings

Summer is over, finally!! (Or at least, the Summer heat is gone!)

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

I resumed reading the Mystery Writers of Japan Award winners, and the first one I read this month, 『風塵地帯』(winner of 1967) by Toru Miyoshi (三好徹) was very good. It was an engaging thriller/crime mystery set in Jakarta just before the abortive coup of 1965. Our protagonist is a journalist (like the author) who finds himself investigating the death of a colleague while being taken in the turmoil of the political tensions between the military and the PKI (the communist party) which led to the coup.

The novel gives a fictional version of general Suharto, but the events described in the book are very close to what really happened, included the beginning of what will become the Indonesian Communist Purge.

The historical setting and the interpretation that the story gives of what really happened made what was already an engrossing book into something even more compelling.

Next I read 『孔雀の道』(winner of 1970) by Shunshin Chin (陳舜臣), and even though the story seemed promising, I ended up caring less and less for the characters and the mystery. Rose is a young woman, half Japanese, half English who returns to Japan to understand the circumstances of her mother’s death and the involvement of her father in an espionage case during the war. I think that solving mysteries that happened in the past is always less thrilling than real time mysteries, and you have to care for the characters to feel involved in their quest. The protagonists slowly discover the truth by talking to people who each hold a piece of the puzzle, but the whole process felt a bit unexciting to me, especially because we arrive very close to the truth at some point and later accounts only confirm what we already know.

I don’t think that the book is bad at all, it just did not really work with me. I also disliked the main character, Rose, and some reflections she makes about how her Japanese and English blood affect her experience in Japan:

(お寺で安らぎをおぼえる。……これはきっと、あたしのなかにある日本人の血がそうさせるのだわ) ローズはそう思った。

その夜、ローズは机のうえに日本探究のノートをひろげた。 さすがに正坐には疲れて、両脚を畳のうえに投げ出した。(この行儀のわるさは、イギリス人の血のせいにちがいない)

Finally, I am reading 『妄想銀行』(winner of 1968) by Shinichi Hoshi (星新一). I am surprised that Shinichi Hoshi won the Mystery Writers of Japan award. Sure, you can say that his short-short stories are mysteries in some way as they present you with a strange situation and you want to know what will happen, but I still find it a bit strange.

This is the second book I read by this author, and even though SF is not my favourite genre, nor the short-short stories my favourite format, I always enjoy reading them.

Strangely, while I can see that these stories are quite easy to read in terms of Japanese level, I always have a hard time reading them. I need to be extra focused and concentrated. I often end up just going through the lines without really understanding them, with the result that I constantly have to go back and re-read the paragraph I just read. I already had this experience when I read 『ボッコちゃん』and it is happening again now. It is strange because this book is clearly easier to read than the two other winners mentioned above, yet this phenomenon never happens with the other books.

I am halfway through it.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

The prompt for September was “fantasy” and I chose to read the Korean translation of The Deer King by Nahoko Uehashi (鹿の王 by 上橋 菜穂子, in Korean: 사슴의 왕, translated by 김선영)… and this is clearly what has consumed all my energy of September.

My reading level in Korean is not high, this is why I am taking this challenge in Korean. But this book is extremely difficult to read for me.

First of all, it is fantasy and it describes a lot of historical events and particularities about the fictional world. This means that I cannot rely on the usual guesses and deductions to fill the blanks. I more or less have to look up everything in some passages, otherwise I simply cannot follow. As the whole series is very long, I want to make sure that I understand everything so that nothing comes back to haunt me later.

There are also a lot of words that I would have known if I had read the book in Japanese, but I either did not know or did not recognise in hangeul. This is very frustrating, because almost every time I look up an unknown word, I immediately understand it by looking at the hanja. For example, there was a sentence that said that the king sent 사자 to the clans. The first thing that comes to mind is that 사자 means lion, but it was obviously not that. So I tried to guess what were the kanji behind the hangeul. I immediately knew that 자 must be 者, but the only thing I could think of for 사 was 死 and I became very confused. Why would the king send dead people to those clans? If the book had been written with hanja, I would have read 使者 (emissary) and moved on.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that some names are difficult to identify as names in Korean. Best example is 반 or 사에 that kind of blend with grammatical patterns, similarly to names that end with 한 or 가. It is okay once you know them but can be confusing when you encounter them for the first time (or maybe my Korean is really just too bad!) I guess it would be okay if the rest was easy, but given that the book is full of unknown words, it just adds to the difficulty.

Finally, I find that the sentences tend to be long and difficult, to the point where I sometimes do not understand a sentence even though I know all the words. Sometimes it also takes me two or three times re-reading a sentence or paragraph to understand it.

I remember this sentence that I read and immediately felt discouraged because I didn’t understand it at first and didn’t have the courage to study it:

홋사르는 오우한 제후의 차남 요타르를 태우고 앞으로 걸어가는 검은 갈기의 갈색 말이 발을 헛딛는 것을 보자 혼잣말처럼 중얼거렸다.

This is an example of sentences whose structure is a bit complex and where the introduction of new names makes things more difficult.

I am halfway through the first book, which means that I have read 1/4 of the whole story. I was not expecting to finish the first book this month, and I am very proud to have read half of it. Even though I did not finish my book, I consider it a success. I will move on to another book for the prompt of October, but I will continue to read the Deer King in parallel.

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

I have reached the 1970s and decided to read about the Vietnam War. A quick research told me that Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes was one of the best books I could read on this topic. As it is quite long, I decided to read it over September and October. I will still have November to cover the 1980s and December for the 1990s, so it’s perfect. (I think that the story of Matterhorn takes place in 1969, but let’s say that it counts.)

This book is incredible, and it will be one of my favourite reads of the year for sure. I have read several novels and non fiction books on war before, and there are always things that are difficult to understand for someone not familiar with all the jargon and for which English is a foreign language, which makes it difficult to understand slang for example. Matterhorn is certainly one of the easiest book on war that I have read. Tactical manoeuvres, description of terrain and positions, weapons, etc. Everything that could be hard, is made very easy to follow even for someone with zero knowledge about military things. There is a solid glossary at the end of the book that helps a lot.

Another thing that I find impressive is how much each character feels real. The story cannot spend too much time with each character, and yet, it manages, sometimes with only a few pages, to give you a good idea of each soldier’s personality, problems and likely response to certain events.

I am at 40%, and even though I want to finish it in October, I am also taking my time because I don’t want to reach the end too quickly.

That’s it for my reading challenges of September. I also read one Agatha Christie and I I started the Hawthorne and Horowitz series by Anthony Horowitz, a detective series where the author himself is helping an ex-police detective to solve a case while writing a book about it.