Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Review: Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: March 01, 2012
ISBN: 1594488088 
Genre: fiction
Author Website: 

Summary:  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.

Review:  Forgotten Country is a very emotionally moving novel full of heartbreak, betrayal, forgiveness,  reunion, and death that spans many generations and two countries - America and Korea.  

At the heart of this novel are two sisters born in Korea and raised in America by immigrant parents.  Younger sister, Hannah, mysteriously leaves, and Janie has the burden and responsibility placed on her by her family to find her and bring her home.  The girl's father has become ill, and the urgency to bring Hannah home is intensified.  

All I can say is WOW!  I read this novel straight through - only stopping to eat, sleep, and shower - and struggled to do so then!!!  What a powerful story.  So much wrapped up in the pages of this book - so much history - both for the country of Korea and the family involved.  The family's past is so entwined in the history of Korea, and it follows them to America.  The family dynamics is a very integral part of this novel, especially the connectedness with the generations that remain in Korea - grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  

I so felt for Janie.  So many layers to this character.  She has so much responsibility on her shoulders - placed there not only from herself, but her family as well.  Her parents never had a son, so felt the pressure to take up many of the duties that a son would have.  Always looking after her sister, following in her father's footsteps in her graduate studies, always doing as her parents asked.  

Hannah was so different from her sister.  She is so distant, so foreign throughout most of the story.  Although her story is very deep, it is not until the end that we get to understand just where she is coming from.  

Living in America we often take for granted how families work.  The culture described in the pages of this book was very fascinating for me to read about - so different from anything I have personally experienced - very informative.  The author's writing style makes this story so inviting and easy to read.  It is hard to believe that this is her debut novel.  I look forward to more from Catherine Chung.

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds amazing! I hadn't heard of it before reading your review. The storyline is intriguing and I am curious to know what happens. I really enjoyed your review! A friend of mine just adopted a baby from Korea- so I have recently been learning more about the culture. I look forward to reading this book.



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