Words for Nerds

I have been rich in good reads as of late. Three great books in a row!

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1)

I loved this novel so very much and I could not put it down. It was completely engrossing.

In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it.

 

A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence.

I LOVED reading a survival story featuring a woman who was smart, tough, and compassionate. I often get frustrated by people who consistently make stupid mistakes or are silly about survival. I also believe that this may be the first book I’ve read that features a bisexual woman as the main character, and I liked the way her thoughts and feelings were written regarding her sexuality. It didn’t feel contrived and her sexuality was not used a plot point.The story moves at a good pace, and I never felt bored by the plot. The story is a stark view of humanity and the quick inhumanity of men, and it’s dark with pockets of hope. I also did not feel like the terrible things that happen to women (rape, assault, mutilation…) were used in service of advancing the plot. Anyway, I loved it!

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The Book of Etta by Meg Elison

The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere #2)

Much to my total shock and delight, I learned after finishing The Book of the Unnamed Midwife that it is actually a series! The third book is not out yet, but the second one is and I blew right through it.

Etta comes from Nowhere, a village of survivors of the great plague that wiped away the world that was. In the world that is, women are scarce and childbearing is dangerous…yet desperately necessary for humankind’s future. Mothers and midwives are sacred, but Etta has a different calling. As a scavenger. Loyal to the village but living on her own terms, Etta roams the desolate territory beyond: salvaging useful relics of the ruined past and braving the threat of brutal slave traders, who are seeking women and girls to sell and subjugate.

 

When slavers seize those she loves, Etta vows to release and avenge them. But her mission will lead her to the stronghold of the Lion—a tyrant who dominates the innocent with terror and violence. There, with no allies and few weapons besides her wits and will, she will risk both body and spirit not only to save lives but also to liberate a new world’s destiny.

This story takes place a hundred years after the Unnamed Midwife’s time which proved to be very cool. The newly constructed world was fascinating, and learning about how each of the different societies made their own rules was endlessly interesting. I could have honestly followed Etta through all of time. Etta, like the Unnamed Midwife, is also smart, tough, and uncompromising. They are both survivors who have to navigate the brutality of a broken society.

I found both to be thoroughly interesting and unique, and I can’t wait for the third. These novels do feature a lot of sexual violence, so if that is something that is especially hard for you to read, then you might want to skip them.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

 

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

This novel was exception and beautiful, but it broke my heart in about a million different ways. The pacing was excellent and the characters were wonderfully well-developed. I thought about them frequently when I was away from the book. I (shamefully) had no idea about the turbulent history between Korea and Japan, and the discrimination that ethnic Koreans faced while living in Japan. At its heart is a story of immigrants, and the feeling of not having a home. It’s particularly timely (always timely I suppose) in the United States. We are not kind to new people. I really enjoyed the novel even though it made me deeply sad over and over again. I really wished it had been longer.

21 thoughts on “Words for Nerds

  1. I loved Pachinko- I could not put it down. The story was heartbreaking and enthralling. I also had no idea about the Korea-Japan relationship, so I learned quite a bit from this novel.

    I followed up with Lee’s novel “Free Food for Millionaires.” I listened to it during a long car ride, which I know is a different experience than reading. I did like it, as well- though the main character’s actions were extremely frustrating, at times. I did not think it was as good as Pachinko, though.

    Love your Words for Nerds posts- I’m going to order your other recs now. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure if you’re into dystopian-style or science fiction books as a general rule, but if you do enjoy them I can’t recommend the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown enough. (He actually just expanded his original trilogy by releasing a 4th book last month, with I believe 2 more to follow?)

    It’s really interesting, and it might be the first books I’ve read that describe a world in which the men and women are LITERALLY completely equal in respect, power and physical strength. The author also does a really good job in world building without writing himself into knots and going too deeply into characters/things you don’t care as much about (ala GRRM).

    https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/five-reasons-you-should-read-pierce-browns-red-rising/

    • I bought the first book of Red Rising, started reading it, then stopped for reasons I can’t remember at all. I should probably give it another shot.

      • The first one takes a while to settle into (but it does pick up quite a bit a little more than halfway through.) I liked the second and the third better.

        • That’s good to know! I only made it a third of the way through, so that explains why I wasn’t immediately taken with it.

  3. I just read Pachinko last month and thought it was so very well done. I’m happy you loved it! Don’t want to be pushy, but if you loved Pachinko I really think you would like Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (if you haven’t already read it, that is). I just finished it, and it was absolutely stunning, especially considering it’s a debut novel.

    • I read it a couple of years ago and “stunning” is the perfect word for it! What a beautifully written novel.

  4. I came upon the the book Night Film when I was browsing your word for nerds section. I’m almost done and have loved it!

    Any other books along that genre you can recommend? I’m on maternity leave for a short while longer and need something new to read while trapped under a sleeping baby.

    • I can’t really think of anything else that really fit that genre. I am trying to think, but coming up with a blank. I will think on it and come back if I think of something along these lines.

  5. I also loved Pachinko. Not only was I clueless about the history between Japan and Korea, I also had never heard of Pachinko. Then I was talking with my mom and she said that Plinko, my favorite The Price is Right game, is a simplified version of Pachinko. I had no idea!

    I’m regularly embarrassed over how little I learned about other countries in school yet people I meet around the world know so much about the US. I’m so grateful for books set in other countries.

    Another great book about immigrants is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. I felt it was a very realistic depiction of what life is currently like for immigrants in the US.

    • I Googled “Is Plinko like Pachinko?” when I got to that part of the book! I couldn’t understand what it was. I feel the same way about my grasp of history. I am still trying to understand the Korean and Vietnam Wars, then I went down a rabbit hole the other day of Henry Kissinger and Cambodia. They definitely leave a lot of this out because we are the worst. I had a full year of Texas history MULTIPLE times throughout my education, yet had no idea about other major events around the globe. We are really committed to our naval gazing, and it easily explains why Mr. “America First” won. We don’t care about anyone else!

  6. I always appreciate your Words for Nerds posts. I also follow you on Goodreads, so I get a preview of what you’re reading over there. I actually finished Drums of Autumn, the 4th Outlander book, recently and looked up your review of that to see what you and your readers had to say about it. I was also frustrated by the total lack of communication between the characters in that book and all of the plot points that come from it. I was heartened by some of your readers who said that books 4 and 5 were a low point in the series. I will continue to read but appreciate knowing that it gets better again!
    Anyway, sorry to comment about a book you read literally a year ago :-/ I will add Book of the Unnamed Midwife to my Goodreads and if my trend continues, will be commenting on it in Feb ’19, haha!

  7. Since you loved my #1 and #2 favorite books (handmaids tale and unnamed midwife), you must read my #3 – Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel. It is super awesome.

  8. I have a goal of reducing my TBR list this year (which is a part of my larger goal to buy much less STUFF and use up, give away, or sell the stuff that I don’t need or use), and have thus decided to enforce a rule that I have to read more books than I buy every week. I have a fancy colour-coded spreadsheet and everything. This week I was at a tie at 3-3, but I one-clicked the Unnamed Midwife so damned hard. Oh well, I’ll get through another book or two before the week is over!

    • I am also trying to buy less physical books. I am pushing myself to wait until I can get them from the library, but when I can’t, I’m making myself buy them on my kindle. Midwife is worth the rule breaking!

  9. Have you read, “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara yet? It’s the last book I read and is one I will think about for the rest of my life, even though I’ll probably never read it again.

    It follows 4 college roommates as they grow and develop in their careers. It deals with some seriously heavy subject matter but it is so compelling and so well written that I couldn’t stop reading it.

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