I’ve always wanted to read Langston Hughes. Hughes was a poet, playwright , writer and best remembered as the leader of the Harlem Renaissance. I checked out a copy of The Ways of White Folks from the library and began reading and couldn’t put the book down. The short story collection published in 1934 fictionalized the often tragic along with a few humorous/odd interactions between blacks and whites in the Jim Crow south during the 1930’s. Out of the 14 stories in the book, one of them I didn’t complete or skipped – “Rejuvenation Through Joy.” The collection had some stand-outs like “Cora, Unashamed” along with the light-hearted stories like “Slave on the Block” to balance out depressive mood. There really wasn’t many stories that you’d characterize as humorous in the collection and nearly all of them are good. The stories are all very moving with a few being tragic and sad like “Home” and “Father and Son.” No question that Langston Hughes writing is powerful when writing about the black experience before WW2. The best of the collection is “Cora,Unashamed” which also was adapted to film by the same name. The story’s title comes from a quote from a black character named Milberry from the short story “Berry” who laments about his mistreatment from his white employer who paid him less than his white predecessor and made him do more work: “the ways of white folks, I mean some white folks, is too much for me. I reckon they must be a few good ones, but most of ’em ain’t good–leastwise they don’t treat me good. And Lawd knows, I ain’t never done nothin’ to ’em, nothin’ a-tall.” I’m glad to have read this book. It’s not the easiest book to read. Anyway, I’m happy to cross this author off my list of writers I’ve wanted to read. I do plan to read more of his work. My rating is a 4/5 for Langston Hughes short story collection. It’s described as being his best work and is a great introduction to new readers. The length of the collection is 205 pages.
Human Acts by Han Kang tr. Deborah Smith is a fictionalized story featuring the real life horror of the Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in 1980. The citizens of the city rose up in mass protest against aggressive military rule. Estimates say that maybe over 600 people died. The story is translated by Deborah Smith and she also wrote the novel’s introduction. The story is at times gripping but disjointed. The author, Han Kang, was born and raised in Gwangju. She’s described as a writer and a poet. The copy I read came from the library. I read this story in 4 to 5 days but it’s gripping enough to read it in a day or two. The length isn’t that long at 255 pages. The POV is sometimes in first person. The subject may keep you reading but how these characters and events connect with each other will cause some confusion and frustration. Reading the introduction helped a bit.
Writing wise, Smith’s voice as the translator is readable and matter of fact. The horror described between these pages is truly awful. Trigger warnings for everything. The torture. The disappearances. Also, the story shows that survivors find asking them to live each day as if this didn’t make it’s mark on their soul or to give testimony for this time period is just too much to ask, too painful to remember and too much to live with. The story is about remembering those who not only survived but those who died for adding their voice against oppression.
I’ve just finished reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and enjoyed it very much. It’s a political story as well as a dystopian novel written in 1949. George Orwell’s thoughts are poured out on the page in a well-written and well-thought manner. He describes a frightening world where there are only three superstates with the main location of the novel, Oceania, being ruled by a totalitarian government, led by Big Brother, who is a symbol of the new power. Everywhere there are telescreens to check people’s actions and hidden microphones planted to monitor conversations. There are acts of espionage at every level. Anyone caught speaking or acting against the party are punished with hard labour or death. It is not uncommon for people to disappear or have families turn each other in to the secret police. The protagonist, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth as an editor. Winston secretly hates the government and the novel shows how he gets pushed headlong into conflict with Big Brother.