A Great Book; Very Good TV Series and a Fun Movie

I don’t usually post this way but I had a book, a movie and one TV show this week (the end of August is really a TV dead period!) so here goes!

Books:

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defection Story by Hyeonseo Lee

I get emails every day from BookBub letting me know e-book sales on Amazon. I don’t look at them all the time because it takes some doing going through the books and researching what might be worth grabbing for a cost of $0 to $1.99. I should do it more often because you can really find a gem that you otherwise would have no idea existed. That is how I came upon this wonderful non-fiction story of Ms. Lee’s unbelievable escape from North Korea.

It is unusual to gain a glimpse of life in this secret society but Hyeonseo takes us through her first 18 years growing up in North Korea and what being a citizen of this repressive communist regime entails. As fascinating as this is, it is the story of her escape that is the highlight of the book for me. It provides a riveting chronology of first getting to China then living in multiple places there and then on to South Korea in a series of moves precipitated by her being discovered. If that weren’t enough, the story then follows an even more perilous journey to get her family out of North Korea. The prose is straightforward (she had a collaborator) and simple but extremely compelling as Ms. Lee navigates life in these countries so different than her birth nation.

Hyeonseo Lee is clearly an extraordinary young woman, intelligent, beautiful and determined. How she was able to figure out survival skills, including languages in China and North Korea is remarkable. It has to be incredibly difficult to break the bonds of indoctrination and leave everything she knew behind. I was in awe of this woman at every point in her journey. I have often wondered why more North Koreans don’t leave and I now have a better understanding of the brainwashing that occurs in a country that controls by fear and intimidation. It is also fascinating to explore just how different the cultures in China, South Korea and North Korea are.

This book has a 4.4 rating on Goodreads, which is extremely high. Although I doubt it is still available on Amazon for $1.99, it is worth picking up at the library or paying full price to read this wonderful autobiography.

TV:

Finales: The Night Of (HBO)

The Night Of completed it’s run last night. The first show in this 8 episode miniseries was one of the best premiers I have ever seen. It followed Naz’s ill-fated “borrowing” of his father’s cab to go to a party in Manhattan through his waking up the next morning to find that a stranger he went home with was dead in her bed and he had no idea what happened. It was riveting. From there, the series stalled somewhat. It seemed to take forever in the next couple of episodes to get Naz situated and charged but then it picked up again.

Not everything worked in this series. The biggest issue on Twitter seemed to be the continual focus on John Stone’s eczema but Stone was clearly the best character in the show. Not only was did the writers give us a great persona but he was brilliantly acted by John Turturro. The character of Chandra, the inexperienced lawyer was not good (although the actress was fine). She made many questionable decisions, particularly in the last episode that just didn’t make any sense given what had occurred up to that point. Also, the ending with the probably identification of the killer was not well constructed. There really wasn’t any reason to even guess that this minor character might have had anything to do with the crime.

This is not an upbeat series. It delivers a dark indictment of the legal system and the effect on all involved from judges, to attorneys to those accused of crimes. None of the participants in this process came out ok in this show – except maybe a cat. The system did them all in. I did think the finale did a nice job of wrapping everything thing up and showing how this crime had impacted all involved. I hope that if there is a sequel to this that they do another case and don’t continue with these characters – I think the way the writers resolved the case was good and they should leave it as is.

This series gives us a little more hope that HBO can still deliver a very good drama. It was a nice summer surprise.

Movies:

Star Trek

I am probably the last person on earth (at least among those who plan to see the movie) to see Star Trek as it opened shortly before I left on vacation and I just didn’t have time to see it until now. As a Star Trek fan, it was worth the wait. I have really enjoyed the first two JJ Abrams Star Trek reboots. This latest film in the franchise has a new Director, Justin Lin, (JJ was doing Star Wars) and has some of Lin’s “Fast and Furious” trademarks. The movie is non-stop action with extraordinary special effects that are in many cases quite stunning. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and company are fun to be around again even if the plot is pretty over the top at times. Even with different actors and much better technology,it has the same heart as the Star Trek that premiered 50 years ago and that I would rush home from Friday night Dancing School class to watch.

In short, don’t look for a stellar plot or even one that makes sense. It’s a fun bunch of characters in outer space in situations that are often pretty ridiculous and the good guys always win. It was really sad to see Anton Yelchin’s final performance after his tragic death and unfortunately Idris Elba was totally wasted as Krall. If you are a Trekkie, you’ll enjoy this movie and if SyFy is not your thing, there are other films out there.

 

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