We live in a world that grows smaller by the minute, so PopcornReads.com likes to provide reviews of cross-cultural novels. When I saw the publisher’s description of Drifting House by Krys Lee, I realized we haven’t reviewed any books about Koreans and Korean Americans. This looked like an ideal opportunity to learn more about that culture, so I requested a digital copy.
This collection of short stories gives an eye-opening account of what it was like to flee North Korea, to live in South Korea and to immigrate to the United States. Drifting House demonstrates just how strong and determined people can be in the face of prolonged tragedy and crisis. I’m delighted the publisher provided us with a finished hardback copy of it to provide in a giveaway!
Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea. She grew up in California and Washington, and studied in the U.S. and England. She currently lives in Seoul and San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in numerous commercial and literary publications. Her awards include becoming a finalist for 2006 Best New American Voices and getting a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize.
Drifting House includes 9 stories:
A Temporary Marriage
At the Edge of the World
The Pastor’s Son
A Small Sorrow
I struggled about how best to present this amazing collection to you. I’ve decided that I’m not going to provide any content about each story or from a selection of them because doing so would not be beneficial. To fully appreciate Drifting House, I feel you have to know more about Korea’s situation and more about Krys Lee. I am, however, going to say up front that I highly recommend this collection of short stories!
The civil war the Korean people experienced has literally as well as psychologically torn their country, and the families living in it, in half. South Koreans still live in a knife-edge situation, with North Korea’s almost constant threats of invasion and/or nuclear annihilation. It often seems like the slightest thing can set off another round of threats. When North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Il, recently passed away, everyone held their breath wondering what would happen next. What the fallout will be from his death is still unclear. I can’t imagine what it has been like to live under the kind of continual in-your-face local threat that makes Drifting House such an apt title for this book. Here is a link to information about the civil war Korea experienced in the early 1950’s. And here’s an interesting link to a North Korea travel site that talks about the war.
Krys Lee does an amazing job of bringing us up close and personal with the life-and-death choices faced by children fleeing North Korea in the Drifting House story and by immigrants struggling to acclimate and adjust to the U.S. in other stories such as A Temporary Marriage. These are people who have to make enormous, gut-wrenching decisions that haunt them and us as readers.
The depth of feeling in The Drifting House made the stories difficult to read. At times it felt like I had been transported and put inside of the people inhabiting Krys Lee’s stories. At first I wanted happily-ever-after stories but when I stop struggling for easy answers and allowed myself to become immersed into the stories just as they were written, it resulted in a very powerful experience. I can’t call the inhabitants of these stories characters. They’re people and I’m a better person for having been exposed to them. Was it easy to read The Drifting House? No. Was it worth it? Very much so.
Excerpts from a Q&A with Krys Lee:
Q: Why did you go back to the country from which your parents fled? Do you consider your home to be the U.S. or South Korea?
A: Originally I returned to Korea with the intention of studying the language for a year before returning to England, where I was living at the time. But it was also an instinctual return to a wound – to find out what had happened to our family, and to understand the relationship between the individual and the country, and the present that is always haunting it, for so many families that have immigrated.
I ended up staying for many years because I felt the need, and have now lived in Seoul for half my life, if I count my childhood. Those years have been a process of discovering the language, culture, and values that made the puzzle of what our family was in America complete. But as my formal education and formative years took place in the West, I will always be a kind of outside-insider in Korea, just as when I return to America I return to an old self that is no longer me. At this point, I consider myself between cultures, a kind of drifting house that becomes a home wherever I happen to live.
Q: Drifting House is a beautiful collection of short stories that portray life in South Korea, North Korea, and as a Korean-American in the U.S. They depict a fractured world. Where did the stories come from: personal experience, observations, or something else?
A: The stories arose from personal experiences as well as my observations of and reactions to the societies around me. Fractured is an interesting, important word for me; being an immigrant in the United States with parents who were afraid of America lends itself to a kind of fracturing. Our house was a Little Korea, and I was fascinated by the homes of American friends that I’d visit because their way of being was so culturally different. There were other, more violent and painful fractures that influenced my life and inevitably my stories. But my sense of story is usually more Jamesian; the autobiographical impulse is buried in character and thematic obsessions rather than in the plot.
Q: What do you want people to take away from reading Drifting House?
A: When Drifting House was being sold, one of the most incredible memories for me was having conversations with editors who actually liked the stories. They found the cultural context of Korea interesting, but most said that it was the characters and their fates as individuals first, rather than as South Koreans, North Koreans, and Korean-Americans, who are shaped by both their personal histories and political and social forces.
Drifting House was released on February 2, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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One lucky reader will win a hardback, finished copy of Drifting House by Krys Lee.
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 3/3/2012, at 11:59pm EST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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