The Hundred Choices Department Store by Ginger Park - the first ever book to be featured in the Indie Book Club! And what a great selection!
When my copy of The Hundred Choices Department Store arrived in the post, I was struck by how diminutive it was. I knew from the product page that it was fewer than one hundred pages long, but I didn't expect it to be so dainty and fragile. The book is tall and thin, and the soft palette of colours used on its cover give it a gentle and delicate quality that I hadn't anticipated.
Before I opened the book, I knew that its chapters were essentially the memories of an elderly Korean woman, and it certainly reads that way. The chapters do not feel like points in a plot but instead like moments in time. They allow the story to progress in a way that feels fleeting and difficult to grasp rather than fixed and certain, which reflects the almost transient experiences of the characters. Their lives are greatly impacted by powerful forces beyond their control, and they are carried from one
moment to the next as if they are blowing with the wind.
I'm not exactly a history buff, but there are certain periods and events in our past that I am fascinated by. I have a good amount of knowledge of the Second World War in terms of its key players, the pivotal events, and even the zeitgest of the West at the time. But The Hundred Choices Department Store revealed a human element that I had not previously been exposed to. I was aware of the Japanese involvement in the war, but I knew little of their occupation of Korea and even less about how their occupation impacted the Korean people. Similarly, I have been vaguely aware of the Korean civil war, as well as the involvement of the US, but this book showed me how one period of turmoil merely facilitated a transition to the next, leaving countless innocent lives in jeopardy.
This book is pitched as Middle Grade, and whilst some younger readers might find the content challenging, I could certainly see many enjoying it. The prose is beautifully poetic but far from inaccessible, and the characters are engaging and relatable. All things considered, I'd give The Hundred Choices Department Store an excellent 4/5.
If you didn't get a chance to read The Hundred Choices Department Store in February, you can still pick up a copy here.