There is a Buddhist saying that each life is filled with 10,000 sorrows and 10,000 joys. In Kim’s first book, a grueling memoir of her childhood, one is blinded by the sorrows and left yearning for at least a hint of joy.
During the Korean War, Kim's mother committed the ultimate sin of bearing a honhyol (a mixed-race child), who in the eyes of Korean society is worthless. To pay for her crime, Kim’s mother was killed by her own father and brother as little Elizabeth watched from a bamboo basket where she had been hidden. Kim's own life was spared, but she was abandoned at an abysmal Christian orphanage where she had to wait, alone and terrified, to be adopted. Kim was eventually taken in by a childless fundamentalist Christian couple in the US who abused her both mentally and physically. To make matters worse, Kim (with her half-Korean, half-Western features) was rejected by the midwestern community that she was forced to become a part of. Her parents eventually orchestrated her marriage to a man so abusive and controlling that it is a wonder she ever escaped—but Kim finally took control of her life and set off with her newborn daughter to make a fresh start. This did not come easy. She suffered through physical and emotional pain, poverty, depression, and failed relationships. After a while this litany of despair may begin to weigh heavily on the reader. Kim has an undeniably awe-inspiring story of survival to tell, but she tells it in such a reductionist manner that the reader is overwhelmed by events without having time to reflect on their deeper meaning. Kim liberally laces her text with her own poetry, as well as that of writers she admires, but even this does not allow her work to soar with the lyricism she is striving for.
A fascinating, tragic tale, hampered by lackluster prose.