August Reading: Sprint to the End of Summer, part I

I've got some good reading going on!  Here are the two latest, including my WIT title.

Summerbook #15: The Story of Hong Gildong:  This is a Korean classic of literature, and the author is unknown.  For a long time, Koreans were taught that this was the first story written in Hangul, the Korean script, and that it dated from the 17th century, but our translator argues that modern Korean scholarship has found that it dates from the late 19th century.  Anyway, Hong Gildong occupies approximately the same spot in Korean literature that Robin Hood does in English, that of a delightfully tricky noble robber who steals from rich and advocates for the poor, but Gildong has another dimension -- he rebels and argues against Korean laws that, back then, discriminated against illegitimate children. 

Hong Gildong's father had a beautiful prophetic vision of having a brilliant son, but this son is born to a lowly concubine, and so despite his intelligence, prowess, and mastery of magic, he cannot serve in the government or the military.  As Gildong laments, he does not even have the right to call his brother Brother, or his father Father.  So he runs away and joins a band of robbers.  Under his rule, this band attacks and punishes corrupt government officials and steals their ill-gotten gains.  Gildong eventually leads his band away to a new island, becoming a king himself, and renews his close ties with his family, ensuring a golden future to their descendants.

It's a fun story, not long at all, and well worth reading for its adventure and its importance in Korean culture.


Summerbook #16: Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, by Sonia Nimr: This is my Women in Translation title for August!  It was originally written in Arabic.  It's a really interesting and rather delightful...novel?  tale? fantasy?  The story begins with an old manuscript hidden in an old house in Tangier, written in Arabic, apparently by a woman from Palestine who has written her life story....

Qamar and her twin sister are born at the foot of a mountain; their father's village is at the top, and it's under a curse.  Because of this curse, Qamar's family is somewhat outcast, and the girls lead a lonely and bookish life, learning their mother's herb lore.  Once she is grown, Qamar longs to travel and see the world, and so she decides to study in Tangier, far from her home.  In the end, she travels incredible distances, by every possible means.  She visits Genoa, Aden, and Ceylon; is a pirate, a doctor, and a friend; suffers, and finds happiness, and loses it again.  It's a wonderful story, set in a misty past.  I enjoyed it very much, and recommend it to you.


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