I’m happy to report that in the first 3 months of the year, I have made great progress on my reading list. Given my decision early in the year to ‘savor’ the things in my life that give me joy, I should have read fewer books. With that goal in mind, I began reading “Simple Abundance – A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” – a book that I had first bought 25 years earlier. The book is meant to be read slowly, one page a day since it has something insightful to say for an entire year.
Every morning, I sat with my cup of tea and began my day with one inspiring page from the book. Within a few minutes, I would be done with the day’s quota. It felt liberating to not have the pressure to turn the page to the next day and get a peek or a head start. Not having to sprint through the entire book, freed up time to do other things, including read other books alongside this one.
Pretty soon I found myself checking out other print and audiobooks from the extremely well-stocked Singapore library. I typically read a lot of non-fiction and memoir but also venture into fiction when I need an easy read to breakup the seriousness of my other reads.
Here are my first three international fiction reads of 2022. To my surprise they are all written by women writers and feature young women in various countries seriously considering their jobs, work life and passions.
There Is No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (translated into English by Polly Barton)
Following an episode of burnout, the unnamed protagonist of this intriguing novel seeks out an easygoing job and succeeds in landing a series of low-level jobs that seem superficially boring (or at the very least, undemanding). From watching surveillance footage to creating advertisements meant to be read on a bus route, putting up posters in a designated neighborhood to writing trivia that appears on rice cracker packages, she glides through the jobs with ease. While following her through each job as she learns the ropes and connects with coworkers, it becomes clear that while she wants a job with minimal responsibility, the jobs all seem to have an interesting angle. Even in the most uninteresting setup, strange occurrences catch her attention and lead to weird encounters where she ends up investigating (and sometimes solving) unexplained mysteries.
The novel depicts the life of working women in Japan and manages to hold your interest as it shines light on the plight of ordinary people, young and old, that she comes across in each job. There are references to mental health issues among young people which are either related to job or relationship stress. As you follow the unusual trajectory of her work life which comes back full circle as realization dawns on her, you feel sad to say goodbye even as you recognise the truth of the title – there is no such thing as an easy job.
Hana Khan Carries On by Usma Jalaluddin
This fun romantic comedy featuring hijab-wearing Hana Khan, a young woman from the Golden Crescent neighborhood of Toronto who has an anonymous podcast kept me glued to the story over one weekend. As the youngest daughter of the owner of Three Sisters Biryani Poutine restaurant, Hana helps out in the family business while interning at a radio station and pursuing her podcast ambitions. Managing the expectations of her immigrant South Asian family while nursing her ambitions leaves no time for romantic pursuits until a charming competitor opens an upscale contemporary halal restaurant in the same neighborhood.
While the light-hearted story and dialog rang true, the undercurrent of hate-motivated crime and the role of family and community were important threads that ran through the narrative giving it a measured level of gravitas. In addition to the unfurling of romance between the lead characters, the best part was the gradual awakening of Hana as she learns to find her voice and use it for greater good while acknowledging the reality of her own life. An easy read for a slow weekend.
People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry
Perhaps I was on a rom-com roll, but when I began listening to this audiobook, I was hoping for some vicarious travel episodes based on the word ‘vacation’ in the title. I wasn’t disappointed as the main character Poppy and her “best friend” Alex, go on a vacation after being estranged for two years. In a non-linear narrative style that switches between ‘this summer’ and ‘ten summers ago’ (and keeps counting down in subsequent chapters), we get to know the totally different personalities of the two people who we know will end up together.
From low budget travels when Poppy is building her social media following to high end ones once Poppy lands a job with a popular magazine, the couple travel through Tuscany, New Orleans, Croatia and San Francisco, among other locations. While we are shown the unmissable sights of each destination, the central theme is the internal tension between them that each seems eager to leave unrequited. After a handful of vacations, the pace slacks and I was ready to get to the happy ending. Just when I thought we were done, there was 25% more of the book to wade through as the millennials insisted on dragging out their confused feelings for each other.
The highlight of the book was the snappy dialog which was great in the audio version but the book could have used some serious editing to keep the ending in sight instead of letting it meander along until the reader had suffered enough through the vacation and just wanted to go home.
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