VOLUME XII: Thought-provoking, Essential Reads
On this volume of Topiary Reading Club, we bring to you important reads that are thought-provoking and eye-opening, reads that we believe could broaden your perspective, add layers to your understanding, and, possibly, even change your life.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“When does a war end? When can I say your name and have it mean only your name and not what you left behind?”
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from the narrator, Little Dog, a young Vietnamese American, to his mother who cannot read. 28-year-old Little Dog recounts memories from his childhood, and unearths a family history that is rooted in the war in Vietnam. In unraveling his own stories, and the stories of his mother and grandmother, he attempts to make sense of his identity, to carve a space for himself in the world, in the American landscape, to heal the wounds that cut through generations, to find joy without forsaking the pain and the trials that he and his family underwent. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a raw and masterfully written exploration of trauma and abuse, class and race, sexuality and masculinity, and language and memory. It is a necessary, poignant and powerful novel of the queer and immigrant experience, yet one that is graced with an undeniable tenderness and intimacy, with a kind of enduring hope.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
“What do you want from us? The dumb girls are too dumb, the smart girls are too smart, and the average girls are too unexceptional?”
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a feminist novel that took South Korea by storm upon its release in 2016. It details the everyday experience of the ordinary woman in South Korea through the story of Kim Jiyoung, a housewife and stay-at-home mother who begins slipping into madness and depression. Cho Nam-Joo chronicles Kim Jiyoung’s life from her childhood and adolescence to her early adulthood and marriage in order to shed light on the struggles and discrimination that women encounter as a result of the deep-rooted misogyny and institutionalized oppression that continue to plague our societies. Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wished for a boy. A female preyed upon by male teachers. A daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed. A perfect employee that gets overlooked for promotion. A wife who relinquishes her career and independence for a life of domesticity. Kim Jiyoung is every woman, and hers is a story of many.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
The Book Thief is a Young Adult historical fiction novel that takes place in World War II. Narrated by Death, the story follows a young girl, Liesel Meminger, growing up in Nazi Germany. While on the way with her mother and brother to be handed over to her foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, her brother dies. She makes her first act of book thievery at his funeral where she picks up a gravedigger’s manual, thus igniting her passion for books and words, and setting off a string of book thefts. Leisel’s love further develops when she learns how to read with the help of her foster father. But when, despite the danger, the Hubermann’s decide to conceal a Jewish boxer in their basement, Liesel's world is both broadened, and broken down. The Book Thief is a hauntingly beautiful tale of the power of words, and human resilience and kindness in the face of immense cruelty and hardship.
We hope you enjoy this list and that you pick up these must-read novels that have left imprints on the hearts, minds and lives of its readers, and that are sure to leave their imprints on yours.