Published by Amazon Crossing
Released on 3/1/18
Source: Free Book
What is it like for an ethnically Korean teen born and raised in Japan facing first love and future? Go is an intriguing coming of age story that has been translated well into English and invites Western readers to appreciate what it’s like to grow up in a world different from their own in some aspects, but not much different in others.
Go introduces Sugihara, a teen boy attending his third year in a Japanese high school and then steps back to give his backstory and family history. His dad was born in South Korea, but lived in Japan because his family, conscripted to work in Japanese factories during WWII like many Koreans, never left. Koreans residing in Japan or even born there can never have Japanese citizenship. Only those ethnically Japanese can ever have that. Sugihara’s dad chose North Korean citizenship because he was a fan of communism though later this palls and he switches to South Korean. And, this issue of citizenship belonging only to ethnical Japanese is at the heart of Sugihara’s story. He has seen discrimination and bullying from the Japanese toward Koreans and he has felt it personally. His is a nature who doesn’t take it lying down and has learned to protect himself from the physical attacks, verbal abuse and more. Sugihara isn’t a hot head and doesn’t go looking for trouble and is, in fact, one who stepped away from troublemakers as he left his Korean private school for the Japanese school and retained the friendship of a quiet, intellectual friend who stayed in the Korean schools.
Family life is a bit eccentric with his dad a former boxer now running kiosks where people can cash in and rather a traditionalist which his mom is done with as she demands a vacation in Hawaii after years of working without one and then she determines she’s getting a driving license and not being treated like she’s a second class citizen in her own home. His dad is a bit rough with discipline and he drinks especially when Sugihara’s mom leaves to stay with a friend after a big fight until Sugihara’s dad bends his stance, but they are a stable, loving family and especially compared to others of Korean descent. Sugihara’s dad doesn’t understand why Sugihara insists on attending the Japanese high school and never bought into North Korean/Marxist politics and thinking, but he doesn’t bar him from taking his own path and his mom is encouraging his efforts.
School is a daily battleground for him and he knew it would be when he chose to switch. He fights off bullying every day and nearly every minute. At most, he is left to himself. His lessons with his dad teaching him to box and also his studies in martial arts and combat give him an edge on his bullies so he wins and this discourages others. His first bully became a friend of sorts, but it isn’t until meeting a pretty, vivacious Japanese girl at a club that he throws caution aside and starts seeing her though he holds back that he isn’t Japanese not wanting a big Romeo and Juliet situation.
Facing a grievous loss, seeing his dad getting beat down by life, and experiencing a break up over nationality has him at a crisis point and he has to decide whether to keep fighting and trying to change things or give up and conform.
Go was a heartfelt, thought-provoking story. First and foremost, it is a story of a teen so it would be Young Adult in focus, but I felt that it was more than that and I see it as literature with YA and romance elements. There is one main character, but there are actually a few stories being told due to their connection with Sugihara. Though the story takes the time to develop the background which was completely necessary for someone like me to stand a chance of understanding what is going on and what the conflicts are, it still didn’t feel heavy. It had a nice pace and got where it was trying to go- a young guy coming of age and seeing his way through some tough moments and nice times.
I chose Go because I wanted something different from my usual reading fare. I didn’t pay close attention to the summary and only knew it was contemporary fiction set in Japan. I ended up with a surprise when I realized the main character was a teen and was Korean, but this turned out to be more fascinating than I anticipated. There is a note at the end that said the author wrote this to help educate about the social issues that were focused on in the story.
I learned ever so much and am still digesting some of it. I was unaware about the prejudices and discrimination going on Japan or how their citizen laws worked so this part was a huge eyeopener for me. Just like I learned a bit about Koreans, the various factions of Koreans, and life for some Koreans in Japan. And, finally, I learned more about the modern Japanese life in the city, school, and careers.
All was fascinating and gave me much to think about and add to my research for later. Mostly, it opened my eyes to other ways and other ways of thinking which a good book will do and, at the same time, I got an entertaining story. All in all, I was glad to have read this one and would read more from the pen of the author. Those who enjoy world literature, coming of age stories, Asian fiction and characters, and well-developed stories should give this book a Go.
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COYER Commuity #25 Out of the Box Readathon
Mt. TBR #40
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