Book Review & Discussion Guide: Without You There Is No Us, Suki Kim

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Without You, There Is No Us is the title of a romantic drama in the same vein as Me Before You. However, the reality is a little more without-yousinister. In fact, “without you, there is no us” is a lyric in a patriotic song about Kim Jong-Il. Suki Kim is a journalist who goes undercover as an Evangelical Christian undercover as a teacher at Pyong-Yang University of Science & Technology (“PUST”). She teaches English to the children of (we assume) North Korea’s elite for half a year and writes a book about it. The book is fascinating because there simply aren’t that many memoirs about North Korea.

Most of the things that frustrated me about the book are more indicative of the North Korean political climate rather than Kim’s writing or experience. There just simply aren’t that many facts, statistics, or events in the book. Not a lot happens to Kim, because North Korea is controlling all of her experiences within Pyong-Yang: from group field trips to go hiking in the mountains to grocery shopping at approved markets for foreigners. However, I think Kim could have filled in some of the gaps with the political history of Korea or the history of the Korean War. I understand that to protect some of the people she met in North Korea, she had to change names and facts, but with so little facts already in the book, this rescrambling of information made the book less substantive than its alleged tell-all on the elite of North Korea.

A small thing that drove me (and my book club) crazy was Kim’s insertion of her “Brooklyn lover” into her memoir. While I understand that she felt isolated and cut off from her friends and family while in North Korea, I didn’t buy this connection to an ex-boyfriend. I was much more interested in Kim’s family’s reaction to and estrangement from her time in North Korea. Kim’s stories about her family’s time in Korea during the Korean War was so interesting and powerful, that I felt a much stronger investment in those relationships than in this arbitrary one that flutters in and out of her mind throughout the book. Our book club thought perhaps this was just a symptom of her solitude in North Korea — nostalgia for old flames. While it may have been true, I think she (or her editor) should have pushed through this a little more to get to the truth behind her experience.

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Book Review + Discussion Guide: The Buried Giant

Our book club pick for this month is The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. In preparation for our meeting next week, I’ve been combing through discussion guides, book reviews, and blog posts. Since you can’t be at our actual meeting, I thought I’d share some of my favorite discussion questions below and see what you think! Please comment with a link to your review, to tackle a discussion question or to disagree with my review!

the buried giant

The description on the back of the book: The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards—some strange and other-worldly—but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

Peter Sis

Peter Sis

My Thoughts: I’ve always thought that Ishiguro tells the same story again and again in slightly different contexts. Usually, a character is older and looking back on his/her life trying to piece things together that happened in the past. Upon reading The Buried Giant, two things really stood out to me immediately: 1.) the book is told mostly in the third person and from multiple characters’ points of view, and 2.) the book mostly occurs in the present. By this I mean that although there is a lot of reminiscing and piecing together of the past, the action occurs mostly to the older character, instead of in his/her memories. Ultimately, I thought that this was a refreshing permutation of the same story that Ishiguro loves to tell. I wouldn’t call this story a fantasy novel or compare it to Tolkien, because I don’t think Ishiguro really is trying to inhabit the fantasy world. Instead, he is using these mythical creatures as tools to push the story further in the direction of allegories and fables. The same story could be set on a different planet, a dystopian future, or in the modern day, and it would still work. I really loved this book, I think it’s the best that he’s ever written.

I’d recommend this book to people who like to read Aesop’s fables, fans of Ishiguro, and anyone who likes to contemplate life’s larger questions, such as the nature of time, love, and memory.

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Onto the discussion questions! I’ve pulled these from a variety of sources, which I’ve provided in the links below.  Continue reading