My grandfather told me that love burns brighter than any star. – Sungju Lee
Before reading Sungju Lee’s Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea, I didn’t know much about North Korea, much less what it is like to grow up in a country that Lee describes as “a true-to-life dystopian nation.” Lee’s story begins with his father teaching him war tactics at age six, lessons that will later save his life as he and his friends run from the police.
As a child young Sungju dreams of becoming an army general. His life in the capital city, Pyongyang, is one of relative luxury, with a nice apartment, a good education, and after-school tae kwon do lessons. He is taught to idolize his country’s leader, Kim Il-sung, and to fear South Korea and the United States.
I was pleased recently, to catch Born to be Blue, the new Chet Baker bio-pic for a couple reasons: [A] I’ve since reconciled my admiration for the cinema of Ethan Hawke and, [B] I’m a big Chet Baker fan.
So first things first, let’s deal with the movie. This might be the perfect time for Hawke to step into a Chet Baker role. Perfect because Hawke’s (now) craggy and weathered look embodies nicely the lived-in-hard features that so defined Baker in his later years. Back in the day, the younger Hawke was certainly fresh and good looking enough to portray the prettier, more iconic Baker of the 1950s. Sure, one might argue that a depiction of Baker’s artistic and personal peaks – when he made the recordings he is most famous for today – would be the ideal period to present. It was only a few short years and Baker was surrounded by giants of jazz. But Born to be Blue chooses instead to give us the older, gaunt, damaged Baker whose fame had by then receded.
Another generation grew up since Frank McCourt published his first book “Angela’s Ashes”. Twenty years ago the book became a huge bestseller but it was not short lived popularity. Angela’s Ashes survived the test of time. It is still among tiles often read around the world.
The first part of the book is exceptionally beautiful and sad. The allure of authenticity, lyricism of Frank McCourt prose, beauty of his language and a fair dose of humor makes it unforgettable. Frank McCourt memoir is not an ordinary long boring story. It is a story told by a boy but it is not entirely about him. Frank McCourt describes his life starting at the age of four until he is nineteen in the hard reality of 1930’s and 1940’s in Ireland. It is a world of extreme poverty, alcoholic father, religious and social tensions in the Ireland’s life but despite all the misery of hunger, illness, deaths and hard life conditions he enjoys small infrequent happy moments and bears everything with simplicity of a little boy’s good heart. Frank’s life story teaches what is important in life, makes us think about our own life and leaves us sometimes with a smile and tears on the face.
One would think the whole book was kept in the writing style convention described above but unfortunately while Frank’s story progressing it becomes somewhat tasteless, too literal and frustrating. Too bad because Frank McCourt book had a lot of potential to be quite extraordinary but it is just ok.