Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

ji-min-lee-marilyn-and-me
Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

1954, the war in Korea is over but there are still some soldiers waiting to see their big star come for a short visit: Marilyn Monroe. Alice J. Kim, working as a translator for the Americans, is one of the few Koreans fluent in both languages and who could accompany the blond film star on her tour. But with the arrival of Marilyn also comes somebody else Alice had almost forgotten: Joseph, her former lover who turned out not to be a missionary but an American spy. Alice thought she could leave her past behind, like the war, just bury it all under the ruins and build a new life. But now, it all comes up again.

Other than the title suggests, the novel is not really about Marilyn Monroe and her visit to Korea. She appears as a character, yes, and I found she was nicely depicted, a sensitive woman lacking all kind of allures one might assume. However, first and foremost, it is a novel about Alice and the two loves she had: first, Min-hwan, a married man working for the government, and second, the American Joseph. None is the loves is meant to last and the political developments in the country add their part to these unfulfilled loves.

What I found interesting was the insight in the possible life of a Korean woman at the time of the war. I have never read about it and this part of history is not something I know much about. Nevertheless, the book could not really catch me. Somehow I had the impression that the two stories – Alice’s one the one hand and Marilyn’s visit on the other – did not really fit together and especially the last seemed more a feature to make the story a bit more interesting by adding a big name.

„These sleeping pills are a better friend than diamonds for those of us who want to forget their past.“

Parallels between Marilyn and Alice are evoked: a past they want to forget, well-known lovers who in the end always decide against the affair and for their wife, the change of name to start anew – but the link is too weak to work for me. Unfortunately, Alice also remains a bit too distant, too hard to grasp and to really feel sympathy for her and her fate.

Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

peter-swanson-before-she-knew-him
Peter Swanson – Before She Knew Him

Hen and Lloyd have left busy Boston for a quieter place to live and where Hen can do her art work in a real artist’s workshop. Their neighbours Matthew and Mira seem to be nice, but the dinner Hen and Lloyd are invited to takes a strange turn when Hen during the tour of the house sees something she shouldn’t see. She does not want to believe her eyes, but it has been there and there is just one simple explanation to it: her neighbour Matthew is a killer. But who would believe her, the woman with a history of false accusations and a diagnose of bipolar disorder? Well, Matthew believes her and confirms her suspicion – sure that she cannot threaten him in her position…

Peter Swanson’s novel is a thrilling read that does not play to the normal rules of the genre. We quickly figure out that Matthew is a serial killer, since we get also his side of the story, it doesn’t take too long to sort this out. But then just a third of novel is over, so what is there more to come? A lot and very unexpected turns.

Even though the focus of the story is shifted again and again, each part of the novel has its own thrills. In the beginning, it is the fight between Matthew and Hen, who is stronger, who will win? This is the part I liked most since here the thrill is at its peak. This doesn’t mean that the rest is lacking suspense, it doesn’t at all. Swanson really could surprise me and I was wondering constantly if this could be true: people living with the knowledge of murders but keeping silent.

All in all, a psychological thriller full of suspense and surprising developments.