top of page
  • Writer's pictureElzbieta M Gozdziak

Reading transnationally .....

Those of you who follow me on this site or other social media know that for the past year I have been living and working transnationally, travelling between my home of 40+ years in Washington DC in the United States and my hometown of Poznań in Poland, where I am currently directing a four-year research project on children with migration background in Polish schools.

This transnational life means that I also read ... transnationally (is this a thing?). As a migration scholar, I have studied transnational migrants and read academic books about transnationalism as well as transnational fiction. But my current physical movement between two continents and two languages--English and Polish--brings a new dimension to my reading, especially my leisure reading.

Fascination with Korean literature

You might remember my fascination with K-dramas and Korean literature from my older post. This past year, I continued to read Korean novels. I wrote about some of them on our project's blog, but want to reflect on a couple of additional ones here.

Han Kang is one of my all-time favorite Korean writers. The latest book of hers I read was Greek Lessons. It is an extraordinary novel.

Two characters – one male, one female – take turns to narrate scenes from their lives. The woman is bereaved of her mother and is processing the loss of her son to the custody of her ex-husband. She is also experiencing the loss of her ability to speak. The man is processing losing his connection to place and family, as well as the loss of his eyesight.

The two protagonists have no names and the novel is certainly not plot-driven either. So what makes it so exceptional? As one reviewer underscored: Its language itself and the dissolution of language. I read the book in English translation (by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won) as I do not know Korean (would love to learn, though).

Kang started her career as a poet; no wonder her language is so imaginative and full of metaphors. She has used language and the disappearnce of language very powerfully to make palpable the disorienting experience of grief. As one reviewer said: "She doesn’t describe grief, but uses language and narrative form to embody it."

My next read was Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, the novel is a rollercoaster adventure through Korean history and culture, a magical epic about life, death, liberty .... and bricks.

Whale follows the lives of three characters: Geumbok, an extremely ambitious woman who has been chasing an indescribable thrill ever since she first saw a whale crest in the ocean; her mute daughter, Chunhui, who communicates with elephants; and a one-eyed woman who controls honeybees with a whistle.

The novel is a satire that sheds new light on the changes Korea experienced in its rapid transition from pre-modern to post-modern society.

Expanding my interest ... and reading Japanese novels

While I read the Korean novels in English translation, I read several Japanese novels in Polish translation: Yōko Ogawa's Ukochane równanie profesora (The Housekeeper and the Professor), translated into Polish by Anna Harikoshi; Zanim wystygnie kawa (Before the Coffee Gets Cold) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi; and several non-fiction books by Haruki Murakami. ( I might venture into his novels this year.)

Back to my childhood

Living in my hometown and speaking Polish on a daily brought back memories of books I read as a child or young teen. I decided to re-visit two of them.

My father owned a very nice edition of Hrabia Monte Christo (The Count of Monte Christo) by Alexander Dumas. I remember the beutiful illustration that graced the pages of the book. I searched for this particular edition in local secondhand bookstores but to no avail, but found a picture of the exact edition (1956) on the Internet.

My copy is not as nice, but the read was extremely enjoyable, bringing memories of my father and his love of books.

No one is ever too old to read Tove Jansson's Moomintrolls! In fact, I think she wrote the books for all ages.

Critics have interpreted various Moomin characters as being inspired by real people, especially members of the author's family and close friends, and Jansson spoke in interviews about the backgrounds of, and possible models for, her characters.

End of the 2023 reading year

I ended 2023 by finishing Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country (an outstanding novel!) and starting shortly after midnight Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler...

26 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page