Tag Archives: Asia

Sonata Days and Nights

Seoul Man amazon

Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis & Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan by Frank Ahrens (Harper Business, $27.99, 336 pages)

“I could live here for forty years, learn the language inside out, and still not understand Korea.”

Seoul Man is basically two books in one. The first is a “fish out of water” story of a middle-aged, married later in life, American who finds himself living and working in South Korea. It’s a completely different world than the one he knew as a reporter in Washington, D.C.

Seoul Man city

Much of Korean culture – one focused on society first and individuals second, makes little sense to Western eyes. Plus, the basic conservatism of the culture appears to now be overrun by a tsunami wave of dangerous binge drinking (Koreans now consume the most alcohol, by far, of any people on the planet). Still, this part of the true account is fun, engaging and entertaining.

Not so entertaining is the part of the book where Ahrens writes about the corporate culture at Hyundai Motor; about his Christian beliefs (which apparently did not negate his participation in drinking fests); and time spent away from his wife and baby daughter. In fact, a long chapter about time spent in Indonesia adds nothing, while detracting from the natural narrative style. It should have been dumped.

Seoul Man back cover

There’s not enough within the pages of Seoul Man to classify it as a true business book. (Automobile lovers will find it lacking in the inside details they may expect to find.) It’s definitely a memoir, one that starts with an exciting bang before it ends on a dull whimper. Wait for the paperback version, or not.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book will be released on August 16, 2016.


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Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.



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A Memorial Day Giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Audio, we have three (3) audiobook copies of War by Sebastian Junger to give away.   Junger is the author of The Perfect Storm and this book, War, is a 4.5 star book at Amazon.   The unabridged audiobook is read by the author on 7 CDs and has a list price value of $29.98.

Here is a synopsis of War and a comment by an early reviewer.

From the author of The Perfect Storm, War is a gripping book about Sebastian Junger’s almost-fatal year with the 2nd battalion of the American Army.   They were known as “The Rock.”   For one year, in 2007-2008, Junger accompanied a single platoon of thirty men from the 2nd battalion as they fought their way through a remote valley in Eastern Afghanistan.   Over the course of five trips, men that Junger knew were killed or wounded, and he himself was almost killed.  

War is a narrative about combat: the fear of dying, the trauma of killing and the love between platoon-mates who would rather die than let each other down.   Gripping, honest, intense, War explores the incredible bonds that form between these small groups of men.   War goes to the heart of what it means not just to be a soldier, but to be human.

“There aren’t many books that really tell the reader what it means to be in battle.   Sebastian Junger is a writer of rare skill who can paint a frighteningly real picture of places few of us would ever think of going.”   Michael J. Edelman, Amazon

In order to enter the contest to win an audiobook copy of War, simply post a comment here or send an e-mail with the heading “War” to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, explain what Memorial Day means to you or your family.  

In order to enter this giveaway, you must have a residential mailing address in the U.S. or Canada (audiobooks will not be mailed to P.O. boxes).   You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 to submit your entry/entries.  

Good luck and good listening/reading!



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Something Completely Different…

Commoner 5Sometimes we need a change from the popular fiction novels set in the U.S.   One book that offers a definite change of time and scenery is the forthcoming Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife), set in London.   Another is The Commoner, a novel recently released in trade paperback form.   This story takes us to post World War II Japan and moves us through a period of more than 55 years.   The author, John Burnham Schwartz, knows a lot about what he writes as he lived in Japan as a younger man; something he wrote about in his earlier novel Bicycle Days.

Schwartz does a fine job of creating a different world, emphasizing the unique features of Asian culture such as humility, respect, duty and class differences.   The latter comes into play as this is the tale of a young woman – a commoner – who is selected to marry the Crown Prince of Japan.   Initially, the proposal of marriage is rejected but Haruko Endo is compelled by duty to family and country to accept the offer from a future monarch.

It is very clear that Haruko will have difficulties once she enters the Imperial Palace grounds and joins the Royal Family.   One of the significant issues facing her is the fact that she was not the choice of the Empress, a domineering woman who usually gets her way.   Schwartz is at his best in creating the characters of the two families, both royal and common.   As a former gaijin, he does an excellent job of describing the very different world that is Japan, from its streets to its food to its birds, plants and flowers.   He even describes smells that he links with this different country.

The story flows freely for 351 pages and is quite a satisfying one for the reader.   But there are a few issues.   First, Schwartz’s writing is generally fluid but every now and then a rough spot appears.   For example, “The (fertility) test, in short said that one could; to be followed by the wedding, which declared that one must.”   Perhaps this would read better in Japanese; it comes across as severely awkward in English.

Secondly, there appear to be some problems in the editing down of the tale.   We learn that the Empress who precedes Haruko lives for a hundred years until she dies a natural death, and yet twice we see references to her “assassin.”   No assassination attempt is included in the story, and the reader has to wonder if and when it was deleted.

Finally, this is one of those unfortunate cases where the entire story is too well summarized on the rear book cover.   If you purchase this book, avoid reading the notes on the cover or everything will be given away too soon.  

All in all, I much enjoyed this unique trip to the Land of the Rising Sun as written by the Japanese-speaking and English-writing Schwartz.   A good read!

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