Our Favorite Reads of 2022
Updated: Aug 31
The New Year is a time for taking stock, reflecting, and looking ahead. In this blog post we are reflecting on our readings in 2022.We have read numerous academic publications to inform the development and the launch of our project and our own writing on migration, but in addition, we have also read books for pleasure and entertainment. Below are a few of our favorites.
Elżbieta M. Goździak
This year, I continued my interest in Korean literature. I have written about my fascination with Korean dramas and novels before, but in this blog, I want to focus on Korean novels about migration and immigrants.
Around 84.5% of overseas Koreans live in just five countries: China, the United States, Japan, Canada, and yes, Uzbekistan. Korean immigration to the United States dates back to 1903 when a shipload of Korean immigrants arrived in Hawaii to work on pineapple and sugar plantations. By 1905, more than 7,226 Koreans had come to Hawaii to escape the famines and turbulent political climate. The subsequent groups of Korean immigrants came between 1950-1964. The third cohort arrived after 1965 and reached the highest number of 30,000 in 1976.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the population of immigrants from the Korean Peninsula in the United States is one of the rare large foreign-born groups to experience a stall in its growth, and even a decline. MPI attributes this development to an aging population and booming economic opportunities and a demographic crunch in South Korea.
Yet, despite the existence of sizable diasporas in several countries, Korean fiction writers hardly ever mention migration in their novels. The exception are diasporic novelists such as Min Jin Lee, a Korean American writer, Elisa Shua Dusapin, a Franco-Korean writer born in France and currently living in Switzerland, and Chesil, a third-generation Korean born in Japan.
Min Jin Lee, the Yale-and-Georgetown-law-educated writer, is probably best known by her novel Pachinko, adapted for television by Apple +TV. The television drama stars Lee Min-ho (my least favorite Korean actor!) I read Pachinko when it first came out and liked the plot of the novel that follows the trials and tribulations of Korean immigrants in turn-of-the-century Japan, but foound the writing lacking. The book was praised for its depiction of institutional racism, prejudice and gripping intimacy under a distinct Asian lens, told in three languages – English, Korean and Japanese. All things I care about, but still wanted to be able to savor the language as well, not just interesting plots and inclusion of important social justice issues.
This past year, I picked out her newest novel, Free Food for Millionaires. The novel tells the story of an angry young Korean-American woman, raised by status-conscious immigrant parents in Queens, who falls out with them after she graduates from Princeton. Not only does the heroine harbor han, she embodies it — her name is Casey Han. Han is a uniquely Korean concept that even Koreans have a hard time defining. It's considered impossible to translate into English, but it's often described as an internalized feeling of deep sorrow, injustice, resentment, regret and anger.
The tightly knit social world of Korean immigrants in New york City is contrasted with the portrayal of their adult children who strive to blend into the mainstream American society without clashing with their distinctive background. As one reviewer wrote: "It’s a feat of coordination and contrast that could kill a chameleon, but Lee pulls it off with conviction."
Again, I foound the storyline captivating, but the language less than satisfying. Upon finising the book, I wrote the following note on my Tumblr page: "I think she can conjure great plots but her language is not memorable. Maybe the plots overshadow the language … the plot details make you go on (just like when you are binge watching k-dramas), but never make you want to stop and savor the writing style."
The novel's protagonist, Ginny Pak, born and raised in Tokyo in the late 1990s, will forever be an outsider because her family is Korean, or Zainichi as Koreans in Japan are known. She attends a Japanese primary school, speaks Japanese at home, and doesn’t speak Korean. At school she blends in except when her ethnicity is pointed out to her. Ginny “bounced around” between schools, moving from Japan to Hawaii before landing with an American host mother in Oregon.
The novel tells her story through compact chapters that take the reader on a brisk journey, punctuated by family letters from North Korea, and a scene in the format of a play. Together they flesh out a collective history and deep-seated prejudice against Koreans in Japan. This complex, layered story, originally published in Japanese, reaches a cathartic conclusion once Ginny resolves to catch the proverbial sky as it falls, thereby forgiving herself and claiming her agency.
The final novel I want to mention is The Pachinko Parlor by Elisa Shua Dusapin. It includes many of the themes that I focus on in my research: belonging and otherness, cultural history and identity, language and connection as well as absence and abandonment.
Claire, a Korean-Swiss graduate student, spends an insomniac summer in Tokyo while visiting her grandparents, Korean immigrants who own a pachinko parlour. Claire is planning to accompany her grandparents on their first trip back to Korea since they fled the civil war in 1952. Gradually, she realises the roots of their reluctance to organise the journey lie deeper than mere inertia.
As I had the pleasure of experiencing long Icelandic nights, I had plenty of time to read, especially during the first part of 2022. I decided to read authors coming from different places in order to see different perspectives or see different parts of the world through different eyes.
I started with House of Day, House of Night. Like everything the author creates, this book is absolutely magical. The imaginary world meets reality and leads readers through an amazing journey of the border lines. Once again, Tokarczuk somehow discovers those fragile borders and invites readers to look at them with curiosity and respect.
I also read Empuzjon, the first novel she wrote after receiving the Nobel Prize. I am still processing that book. I definitely recommend Tokarczuk’s books to everyone who is ready to be led by a wave of unpredictable thoughts.
Lajla, znaczy noc by Anna Lipczak is a great book that has had a lasting effect on me. I travelled in Andalusia, Spain before. This book brought some very needed explanations. Somehow, different stories I heard, different Spanish words which origin I didn’t understand started to make sense. It was an absolutely amazing feeling: the book answered many of my questions, but also created a lot of new questions. When I think about culture and multiculturalism, I love this feeling of having questions - this lack of understanding, which keeps you curious and inspires you to look for more answers. I absolutely loved the process of reading this book: it felt like I was on a long walk, where one can meet different people, ask different question,s and stand together with this uncomfortable feeling of lacking answers.
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge is a fantastic collection of essays about lack of understanding of systemic racism. The book presents important elements of colonial history and the effects on modern societies that some think have nothing in common with the colonial past anymore. With much patience, Eddo-Lodge explains how systemic racism still exists. Facts and stories about real people included in this book are eye-opening. In a word where there is still so much racism and xenophobia, this is a very needed book. I highly recomment it.
On Time and Water by Andri Snær Magnason, an Icelandic writer, is another collection of nature-cenetered essays I enjoyed reading. This book provided much food for thought while I was spending time in the land of ice and fire. The way Magnason reveals Iceland to his readers is marvelous. He shows the uniqueness of the land while connecting Iceland to the rest of the world by using the symbol of water. He invites readers to contemplate with their two feet firmly placed on the ground. He doesn't write about the mysterious North and doesn't invoke Nordic fantasies - he writes about about the environmental degradation we’ve been experiencing and which we have the obligation to stop.
The last book I want to mention is The Housekeeper and the Professor, a short novel written by a Japanese author, Yōko Ogawa. Besides the amazing way of presenting the difficult art of building relationships, the book showed me the power of human fascination. What does change when we are fascinated about something? I had a feeling that Yōko Ogawa invites us to observe and get inspired by curiosity and fascination.
I want to mention three books that I read in 2022. The first one is The Beast: White Supremacy by James Omolo, a Kenyan writer and scholar living in Poland. The author draws attention to the historical and cultural contexts of colonizing supremacy of white, Europeans and the lived experiences of Black people residing in Eastern Europe. He juxtaposed the current political discourse, ideologies, nationalism, and prejudice towards certain ethnic and racial minorities in Europe with the recent "refugee crisis," in particular, the humanitarian crisis at the Poland-Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus borders. The Russian aggression in Ukraine and discrimination practices makes this book particularly meaningful.
Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples, by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, is an essential reading for migration and childhood scholars, who seek to conduct participatory research. Linda Smith raises the important issue of imperialism and westernized methodologies use to study indigenous people and vulnerable groups through their own historical, political and methodological lens.
Here, There, and Elsewhere: The Making of Immigrant Identities in a Globalized World by Tahseen Shams shows how mmigrants are anchored ‘here’, ‘there’ or ‘in-between’, as keeping roots, ties, and identities in more than one place. Tahseen Shams, however, highlight the effect of ‘elsewhere’ places, spaces, and events, which impact the lives of immigrants. Using the attack on the World Trade Center, the author points out how it affected the lives of Muslim people all over the World, who have experienced racial and religious discrimination and exclusion. A similar effect is now seen as the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the perception/treatment of Russians, who are associated with the events, all over the world. The book is a Winner of the 2021 Thomas and Znaniecki Award, International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association.
We hope these musings about our 2022 favoite books will inspire you; perhaps you will even add them to your own TBR pile.