“O is an original”

This book was a Book Club selection and since I didn’t think it was ‘my cup of tea,’ I held off reading it until the day before the Book Club was to meet.  Now, I must read it again – and savor it.  It is an excellent read, nuanced and intriguing and spare and (strangely) poetic.  I look forward to James Church’s next novel.

From the book jacket:  “The Corpse in the Koryo is a spellbinder.  Bloody and chilling, yet subtle in its psychological detail, with an amazing understanding of North Korea.” – Ezra F. Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University Asia Center

If you want to read a mystery that is indeed a mystery, read this book.  If you want to know more about North Korea, read this book.  If you love the beauty of language, read this book.


Halfway out of town, the dark called it quits and it was day.

One day I found a book about inventions.  It said that an American had invented sandpaper in the 1830s.  “Who needed it!” my grandfather waved the idea away with an angry gesture.  “My father’s father prepared wood for furniture by smoothing it to a silken shine.  He used a smoothing tool like a magic cloth, people used to say.  There were no Americans around then, I can tell you that.”

I wasn’t going to argue, but I was interested in why he was so adamant.  “Because we are always being portrayed as behind, beholden to others, backward and beggars.”  His face flushed when he spoke like this.  “Not Americans, not Chinese, not Japanese–we’ve been making furniture for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Beautiful furniture, when America was still covered with trees and peopled by savages who wore animal skin for clothing.  What would they know about wood, about how to coax it, talk to it, romance it, sing to its spirit?  Do they have any real carpenters there?”  I didn’t say anything, because when he was mad like this he treated me as if I were one of the enemy, someone who had gone abroad and come back tainted.  “Well, do they, Mr. Korea-Not-Good-Enough-for-You-Anymore?”  He was glad I was being assigned on travel out of the country–it meant I was trusted–but he worried I would decide not to be Korean anymore.  “Sand!”  He snorted.  “Why would you use sand, anyway, on a piece of wood?  Sand is fine for metal, maybe, but wood, wood, wood is like a beating heart.”


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