Mark D. Diehl grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, living with his unstable mother, who exhibited signs of borderline personality disorder. He had no father or siblings in the house, and it took him a long time to figure out that his childhood was abnormal. By age twelve, he had a seething contempt for authority, and his heroes were criminals. Despite failing classes in junior high and high school, he managed to attend and graduate from the University of Iowa. It was clear to Mark that he wasn’t the type to work his way up through the ranks in a company, but without money or family support it was unlikely that he could start a successful business of his own. Thinking that South Korea’s growing economy might present some opportunities, he took a job teaching English there, and met Jennifer, a local Korean woman who would later become his wife. Their interracial relationship elicited harassment and abuse for a year before Jennifer’s influential family found out they were dating and chased them out of the country trying to recapture her, and this story is now the subject of Mark’s memoir, “Stealing Cinderella: How I Became an International Fugitive for Love.” Returning with Jennifer to the United States, Mark attended law school at the University of Iowa College of Law and practiced as a litigator in Chicago for several years. Eventually he quit the law and returned to graduate school for creative writing at the University of Chicago, working on books he hoped would help preserve the American respect for independence and individual free will. His award-winning dystopian science-fiction trilogy "Seventeen" is set in an Asian-style social hierarchy after the world’s supply of natural resources has been exhausted. He and Jennifer currently live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Find out more about their life and Mark’s other writing at www.MarkDDiehl.com.
“An engrossing, poignant, and often disturbing adventure; loaded with historical and cultural details about the Korean Peninsula.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A dystopian novelist turns his attention to a memoir, recounting the 18 months he lived in South Korea.
In 1993, 23-year-old University of Iowa graduate Diehl (The Book of Wanda, 2018, etc.) accepted a position at SNM Academy in Taegu (now known as Daegu), South Korea, teaching English to adults. SNM had nine levels of classes, 101 through 109. There was also a Junior Academy for younger students. At the junior school, the author met Jennifer, a beautiful, young Korean woman who captured his heart. She was a Taegu native teaching English there. Their relationship—first one of friendship, then love—broke Korean social norms and put them in great danger. She was the middle child and, worse, the second daughter of a wealthy, professional family. “I was a disappointment to them the day I was born,” she told Diehl. Within the family, her needs were subservient to those of her older sister and younger brother. Combining the drama and excitement of a novel with some sociological commentary, the author offers both a tender love story and an eye-opening depiction of Korean values, restrictions, and strengths in the early ’90s. As a white man, he was viewed with suspicion, which turned into outright hostility whenever he was seen walking or dining with Jennifer. Through re-creations of classroom dialogue with his most advanced students, the 109s, Diehl deftly highlights various aspects of Korean social stratification. One student explained: “Men are different. To men, most important is respect. Way to get respect is to be a manager. When every man is manager and every woman is mother, then everyone is happy.” After Jennifer’s parents discovered she was dating an American, threatening to disgrace the family, they beat her mercilessly. Here the narrative turns from being intriguing and at times lighthearted to gripping, as under the cover of darkness and with contrived documentation, the couple fled to Hong Kong and later the United States.
An engrossing, poignant, and often disturbing adventure; loaded with historical and cultural details about the Korean Peninsula.
Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2019
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Fencetree Press
Review Posted Online: July 30, 2019
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