On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.
Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement.
Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.
The year that Hannah disappeared, the first frost came early,
killing everything in the garden. It took the cantaloupe and the
tomatoes; the leaves of lettuce turned brittle and snapped. Even
the kale withered and died. In front, the wine-colored roses froze,
powdered gray with the cold, like silk flowers in an attic covered
with dust. My father and I had planted the garden over several
weekends, and tended it carefully. Then it had overgrown itself,
the tomatoes winding themselves up the wall of our house and
stretching out to span the distance to the fence. After the frost
we'd left it all winter without trimming anything back. Now we
stood on the lawn, surveying the ruin, tracking damp patches of
ground wherever we stepped.
"We're selling the house," my father said, blowing warm air on his hands.
"That makes sense," I said, but it felt suddenly difficult to breathe. My parents had told me they were going back to Korea, so I'd known selling our house was a ...
...Chung knows her protagonist, and the strength of that finely tuned characterization carries the plot. Even when some plot points remain unresolved, it is forgivable because, well, that's just the kind of person Janie is. Her Eastern/Western culture blend doesn't beg easy answers or pat resolutions. So, reader, we will have to forego them as well. No matter. Really. Some of the best books leave us with undigested morsels to ponder at our leisure. Now that Chung has reached such a high bar with fiction-as-memoir I look forward to where her considerable skills will take her next.
(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
Full Review (814 words).
The family in Forgotten Country flees South Korea in the tumultuous wake of what many South Koreans consider to be the worst tragedy in Korean history since World War II - worse even than the Korean War. Indeed by all accounts the event that took place in May of 1980, known as the Kwangju Massacre, when hundreds of students and private citizens of a university town (also known as Gwangju or Gwangju Metropolitan City) were slain by the Korean military, is widely acknowledged as a national tragedy.
It all began as a demonstration against the military dictatorship of General Chun Doo Hwan who had dashed any hopes of democratic elections upon the assassination of South Korea's previous leader by declaring martial law and imposing ...
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