A former Korean film star reunites with her three adult children just as their lives begin to implode.
At the height of her fame, Soong Nan was Korea’s Elizabeth Taylor, but she harbors a secret that could topple her fame: She is the daughter of a comfort woman and an occupying Japanese soldier. When she is 14, she walks 100 miles south to Seoul, where she hopes no one will guess her Japanese heritage. Once there, she steals a handful of grapes from a fruit vendor, who chases her into the street, where she is hit by a limousine. The car’s occupant, renowned movie producer Park Dong Jin, gathers the unconscious girl in his arms and then laughs when he realizes she is faking. “What we have here is an actress.” She is delivered to a world of tutors and servants, who groom her to become Korea’s greatest actress and Dong Jin’s wife. The storyline opens 50 years later. Soong Nan, now retired and twice widowed, has, over the years, earned and lost fortunes, murdered a man and seduced another to suppress his blackmail threats—all, she believes, for her family’s legacy. Believing, finally, that the past is past, she travels to Hawaii to spend time with her three children (two by Dong Jin and one by her American husband, Captain Henry Lee). But she finds her son has become an impotent, selfish drunk; her daughter Won Ju has married a womanizing “haole” Hawaiian after recovering from a brutal rape; and her “American” UC Berkeley English major daughter Darian only understands her Korean heritage through books. Soong Nan’s only hope is her 15-year-old grandson Brandon, who pays entirely too much attention to his uncle’s stripper-wife, a native Hawaiian. Told in alternating chapters from each family member’s point of view, this tale reveals and examines Korean and Hawaiian cultural traits that both define and undermine family ties.
An earnest but dour debut.