A pleasing mix of Margaret Cho, Sarah Vowell and a pinch of Cory Doctorow.

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THE BIRTH OF KOREAN COOL

HOW ONE NATION IS CONQUERING THE WORLD THROUGH POP CULTURE

A funny, iconoclastic Korean-American journalist and author turns her skewering lens on her own culture.

Hong (Kept: A Comedy of Sex and Manners, 2006, etc.) has a mischievous sense of humor when it comes to culture clashes, so it’s a pleasure to see her turn her wicked talents on “Hallyu.” It’s a broad term that describes the proliferation of South Korean pop content into the world’s culture-scape. Along the way, Hong gives a thoughtful, self-deprecating and sly analysis of the movement that brought us not only the unescapable rapper Psy, but also brilliant filmmakers like Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), culinary superstar Hooni Kim and game developers Blizzard Entertainment (the Starcraft and Warcraft franchises). The book’s opening stories give nice insight into the author’s odd place between two worlds: A fully Americanized Korean-American girl often mistaken for Chinese, her parents moved her back to Korea, specifically the district of Gangnam. “Korea was not cool in 1985,” she bemoans in her opening line. Through the exploration of various cultural tropes, government enterprises, and social and economic changes, Hong shows how Korea got cool in the past decade or so, almost by accident. One of the more interesting chapters looks at “Han,” a sociological meme involving oppression against impossible odds and the eternal thirst for vengeance. Hong levies a lot of different factors into the reasons behind what politicians like to call the “Korean Wave,” among them a technology- and economy-based sophistication that birthed a new sense of irony, as well as a deliberate investment by the government in the creation and export of Hallyu. However, the author also believes that the wealth of addictive soap operas, video games and pop hits doesn’t represent lightning in a bottle, arguing that this brave new world is uniquely Korean.

A pleasing mix of Margaret Cho, Sarah Vowell and a pinch of Cory Doctorow.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04511-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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