How a series of letters helped the author understand why her parents left when she was a teenager.
When Koh (A Lesser Love: Poems, 2017) was 15, her mother and father left her and her older brother in California to move back to Korea, where Koh’s father had been offered a lucrative job. “It was the kind of opportunity,” she writes, “others might envy or criticize….Both position and pay left a knot of amazement on my parents’ faces.” The position was supposed to last three years, after which they would return to their children. But then the contract kept getting extended, leaving the author feeling abandoned. Her mother wrote letters and called home on a regular basis, but Koh struggled with her absence. Years later, she rediscovered the box of tear-stained letters written primarily in Korean and set about translating them. In the process, she began to see her mother in a more rounded, fleshed-out form and to fully comprehend the love transmitted through her mother’s words and her ongoing pleas for forgiveness for leaving her daughter at such a pivotal age. Koh was also able to understand more about her grandmother, who witnessed the terrible 1948 massacre on Jeju Island, and what it means to be a mixture of Korean, Japanese, and American. The author includes her translations of some of her mother’s letters as well as the originals. Her bewilderment regarding her mother’s decision is deeply evident, as are her gradual perceptions about how the move affected her mother. Koh also provides information on her travels to Japan, where she studied, and her brief stint as a dancer in Korea, and she explains how she eventually found her way into a poetry writing program in college and how that further helped her grasp the feelings embedded in her mother’s letters.
Intimate, subtle insights about a unique mother-daughter relationship.