Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

The Korean peninsula has inspired some great novels recently, including The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo, a poetic and harrowing portrayal of life on the border between China and North Korea, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (previously blogged), and The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Each gives varied views from within the Korean culture.

Now Catherine Chung has written an engrossing story of two sisters born in South Korea, who come with their parents to Michigan as young girls, grow up, and move out into their own lives. There are family secrets between the sisters and between parents and children, which create tension as the story unfolds. Janie, the elder sister, was cautioned to protect Hannah when she was born because sisters can “disappear” (one family secret) and she takes this seriously. Hannah, studying in Chicago, suddenly goes missing and Janie and parents panic.

Eventually Janie traces Hannah to California and informs her that their father is ill, Mom and Dad have sold their home and are returning to Korea for treatment, but Hannah needn’t come: she isn’t needed. Older sister is very conflicted about telling this untruth, but wants revenge for the pain Hannah has put them all through. Meanwhile Hannah has her own painful secret from childhood which she thinks Janie knows about but has ignored.

In Korea, the beloved father receives alternative treatment, seems to improve, and Janie learns more about her parents and why they left Korea from the stream of visiting family and friends. When Hannah arrives, an uneasy truce settles over the sisters as they and their mother disbelievingly watch their father slowly dying. I found this novel beautifully written with spare prose and enlightening cultural details.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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