Six Degrees of Separation: From No One Is Talking About This to Pachinko

January disappeared quickly, which is most unlike it. Here we are at the first Saturday in February, which makes it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This month, Kate has chosen a recent novel that made the Booker shortlist last year, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I haven’t read it myself, but I have read other people’s opinions of it.

It’s a book of two halves, with one part focused on the impact social media has on women, the other an examination of grief and how a family survives loss. It’s considered an experimental work, so I’m heading in that direction for my first link, to a book that shares its experimental approach, as well as a theme around manipulation via technology.

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker is one of the strangest, most beautiful and unsettling books I’ve ever read. It is set in a world where humans have somehow survived a catastrophe of their own making, but where technology has completely replaced personal responsibility. Letters disappear from the text, words change colour, and it becomes clear that the central character is thinking outside the technology and causing glitches, because her humanity needs to override the system.

Because it’s in my mind due to the new TV adaptation, I’m going with post apocalyptic survival and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven for link two. In this novel, a form of flu has wiped out 99% of the world’s population and society has collapsed. It’s a novel that explores friendship and belonging, and the tension between that and the need to survive.

This made me think of J G Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, which I read long before blogging was a thing. This novel follows Jim Graham, a British boy living in the Shanghai International Settlement, who becomes separated from his parents following the Japanese occupation in 1941. Jim finds ways to survive that involve choices about where and how he belongs, and these choices aren’t always comfortable reading.

Who we are and what we become in times of stress, in circumstances that feel apocalyptic, such as war and its aftermath, underpins Jacqueline Harpman’s novel I Who Have Never Known Men. Harpman created a world in which women and men are dehumanised and incarcerated for no apparent reason, a reflection of the Holocaust that Harpman’s family escaped by going into exile, but that millions of other families didn’t escape.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus reflects on being the child of a Holocaust survivor, and the randomness of who got out alive and who was murdered. This ground breaking graphic novel is in the news thanks to a Tennessee education board banning it from being studied in school. It’s a book I have yet to read, but this article by Linda Mannheim has pushed me closer to finding a copy.

My final link in this chain is to Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, a novel that is rooted in the feelings of hatred and shame caused by Japanese treatment of Koreans during the 20th century occupation of Korea by Japan. It covers suffering and how the women of the novel in particular deal with it, along with love and loyalty.

All the books in my chain this month are about surviving, and digging deep to discover who we are and what we need in order to survive. I’ve wandered between the future and the past and found that the human will to survive and express itself is strong, despite anything other humans, technology or nature might throw in its way.

And now for my usual question: where might your chain take you? Head over to Kate’s blog to discover the chains shared by other readers.

16 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From No One Is Talking About This to Pachinko

  1. I unreservedly loved Pachinko, which I read shortly after our trip to South Korea, where we’d spent a longish time in Busan, where my daughter was working. So it was good to develop our understanding of the complicated relationship that Korea has with Japan through this book. I too am interested in Maus and the Harpman. I too read the Ballard a long time go, and remember once trying, and failing with a Nicola Barker, Maybe time to try again! Station Eleven? Let’s see. I need cheering up!

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    1. I was scared of Nicola Barker for a long time, Margaret. She seemed too dark and edgy, from the things I read about her books. H(A)PPY hit the spot for me, but I haven’t yet followed up on any of her others. I recommended it to someone who usually shies away from experimental writing, and she enjoyed it, too.

      Station Eleven is actually pretty positive, despite its dystopian nature. I read it five years ago, so quite prescient, too. I wonder how I would feel reading it now!

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  2. I have Pachinko ready and waiting. Just need to be in the right headspace. Overall, a brilliant chain as always, Jan. Your choice of reads always leaves me with a lot to think about.

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  3. What an interesting chain. I am particularly interested in ‘Happy’ and ‘Station eleven’ in particular, must seek out. Always good to read a chain with some titles I have read – Maus is an extraordinary work, and I can’t recommend it enough. Depressing to see it on a list of books pulled from the syllabus in Tennessee this week. And I finished Pachinko just a few weeks ago – completely lost myself in that story, about a people I didn’t know about. Mine is

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  4. Good, very original, chain. Maus is worth it. Tennessee is sometimes it’s own planet. I was thrilled to see someone in the news (the author or a comic store owner–can’t remember) sending copies for free to kids in TN. I saw the movie Empire of the Sun on a date when it came out in the 80s–it was very good. Pachinko was good, but I did not see it AS good as many reviewers did. Still excellent though.

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    1. Thank you! I saw the film version of Empire of the Sun, too – I read the book off the back of it and, good as the film is, I much preferred the book.

      I love that someone has sent copies of Maus to the school children. Let’s hope their parents don’t enforce the ban at home.


    1. Thank you, Mary. That’s a good question. I suppose we can’t know unless we’re actually in the situation. We can only hope that we will be. But thinking about it might help us feel more prepared to be brave if we ever find ourselves there. Something like that, anyway 😊


    1. I hadn’t heard of Harpman, either, until I picked up on the reissue of the translation. She wrote a lot, but I can only find English translations of this one (also under its original English translation title The Mistress of Silence) and Orlanda. If only my French were better!


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