The Old Woman with the Knife, Gu Byeong-mo (2013, Engl. Trans. 2022)

At start of this intriguing novel, we meet our protagonist, known by the professional name Hornclaw, as she expertly assassinates a target in Seoul’s subway system. But we quickly see that all is not right in her world; at sixty-five, her age is catching up to her, she recently bungled a killing, and a young colleague seems to have it out for her for no apparently reason. How will Hornclaw navigate all these threats to her livelihood and life?

While not in my normal wheelhouse, I really enjoyed this book, part thriller and part ‘show-don’t-tell’ reflection on the experience of aging in a world that worships youth and tosses people aside when they are no longer ‘useful’. Excellent and well-executed. (No pun intended.)

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Assassins
  • Korean culture
  • Aging
  • Books in translation

My Rating, 8.5/10

Weekly Roundup

  • Laughing with the Trickster: On Sex, Death, and Accordions, Tomson Highway (2022), 8/10: This is 2022’s contribution to the wonderful CBC Massey Lectures series. Highway, a long-standing and prolific Indigenous playwright and author, thinks through the consequences of Trickster mythology for Indigenous worldviews. As literature, I give this a 10/10; the lectures are wonderful, entertaining, and informative. As cultural commentary on language and religion, however, it’s an interesting perspective but he offers up his own way of reading the linguistic and theological data  as facts in a way that I don’t think is all that accurate or helpful. Please read this, but take it with a few grains of salt — as one should any Trickster story! (Indigenous Perspectives, Essays, Language, Religious Studies, Trickster Motif)
  • Tumble, Celia C. Pérez, 2022 (9/10): In this charming middle grade novel, twelve-year-old Adela Ramírez has a pretty good life. But when her adoring stepdad Alex proposes adopting her, it brings to the surface the great mystery of her life: the identity of her biological father — a topic her mom refuses to talk about. With her research skills and best friend helping her, Adela solves the mystery and begins to reconnect with not only her dad and his family, but with her mother too. This is a fantastic story about identity, legacy, and all the ways family can support us — and disappoint us. (Middle Grade, Latinx Culture, Family, Legacy, Parents)
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1927), 8.5/10: This novel, widely regarded as one of the great literary achievements of the twentieth century, follows a white-collar family as they spend three summers spanning decades at a remote cottage off the coast of Britain. It is a quintessential character-driven novel, as it aims more for insight into the human condition than to tell a story. And it succeeds in this aim, offering profound reflections on relationships, loss, art, legacy, the passage of time, and perspective. However, where it didn’t quite work for me as well as it has for so many over the past century is that I found all of the characters unsympathetic and uninteresting. It’s a literary masterpiece to be sure, but not one I’m likely to revisit or recommend to many. (Modern Classics, Character-Driven Novels, Existentialism, Family)
  • Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez (2019), 9/10. If you’ve ever wondered why the lines for women’s washrooms are always so long, why women always seem to be cold in the office, or why the gender pay gap persists despite efforts to eliminate it, this is the book for you. It is an eye-opening look at the far-ranging consequences of our society’s history of thinking of males as the ‘default human’ on the other 52% of the species. There is a lot of data here; that is both the book’s great strength, and also its weakness as a reading experience. But I encourage anyone to give it a good skim and be informed about this huge problem. (Non-Fiction, Feminism, Data, Equity, Urban Design)
  • Mirror Mended, Alix E. Harrow (2022), 7/10: In this sequel set five years after the events of A Spindle Splintered, Zinnia is pulled into a Snow White story, where she finds that the fairy tale is quite different from what she expected and is faced with the consequences of her years of meddling in other people’s stories while refusing to complete her own. I did not enjoy this as much as the first book, but I did appreciate some of the meta commentary on personal narrative and the problems with portal stories. (Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retellings, Snow White Trope, Feminism, Portal Stories)
  • Pumpkinheads, Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (2019), 9/10: It’s Halloween night and for force-of-nature Deja and quiet-and-hard-working Josiah, that means it’s the last night they will ever work their town’s annual pumpkin patch fall festival. As they deal with every obstacle set before them — including snack thieves, lost children, an an escaped goat — they are determined to make this last night count. This is a very cute YA graphic novel about friendship, courage and vulnerability. A delightful read! (YA, Graphic Novel, Friendship, Vulnerability, Autumn)
  • Spy Camp, Stuart Gibbs (2013), 8/10: In this second story in the Spy School universe, Ben’s Summer at Spy Camp is thrown into chaos when he receives a note from SPYDER telling him they will kill him unless he defects to their side. Cue espionage misadventures! I read the first book in this series in its new Graphic Novel adaptation, so I was intrigued how I’d find the print for the second book. While I enjoyed the Graphic Novel format more, this still still a very fun romp. (Middle Grade, Adventure, Children Doing Espionage)
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