BookBrowse Reviews Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Forgotten Country

by Catherine Chung

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung X
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A modern narrative interspersed with Korean parables about familial obligation and authentic identity

Chung's writing style reminds me of a fine painting where every brush stroke is laid down with purpose and control. Discipline is a word that comes to mind. Restraint is another. Nothing that is written is meant to be taken lightly. Every word has a job. Nothing extraneous is exposed. It is a style that suits the book's focus perfectly.

This is, after all, a novel about a family that communicates via stories, little parables whose meanings are not explicit but instead are couched inside the listener's mind. Maybe it's not the most efficient method of communicating. It's certainly not the most effective since it requires cooperation between the person relating the story and the one who is hearing it. And if the listener mishears or misinterprets the story's meaning, well, that is Chung's central theme. Because when Janie's grandmother tells her a story about how every generation of their family loses a daughter, the poor child takes on her baby sister's care as a personal responsibility. Whether that is what her grandmother intended or not is unclear. Regardless, it ends up being a heavy load placed upon the child.

The obvious consequence is a family paradigm where everyone, including baby sister Hannah, expects Janie to guard her, protecting her not just from outside danger but from self-inflicted harm and strife. The fact that it is an impossible task is what creates the basic conflict in the book. Combined with the added dimension of a family uprooted and thrust into a totally alien culture that values bluntness over parable, work over family, and the plot branches out in several directions. Chung successfully reins in these branches by employing the first person narrative. Her skill here makes it easy to forget this is a work of fiction. Indeed it reads so much like a personal memoir that I had to wonder if it really isn't a thinly veiled account of the author's own experience.

I guess that is neither here nor there because either way 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 provide 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

This review was originally published in March 2012, and has been updated for the March 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Kwangju Massacre

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: An American Summer
    An American Summer
    by Alex Kotlowitz
    As a Chicagoan, I've become used to the most common reactions when I'm traveling and tell someone ...
  • Book Jacket: The Sun Is a Compass
    The Sun Is a Compass
    by Caroline Van Hemert
    Caroline Van Hemert fell in love with her future husband, Pat, in 2001, discovering they shared a ...
  • Book Jacket: Women Talking
    Women Talking
    by Miriam Toews
    Miriam Toews' Women Talking is a circadian novel, unfolding over a span of just a few hours and ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    When We Left Cuba
    by Chanel Cleeton

    An exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Courting Mr. Lincoln
    by Louis Bayard

    A master storyteller at the height of his powers, delivers a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Women Rowing North

The instant New York Times bestseller

A guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.