Forty Bibles and Forty Dictionaries by Hae-Lyun Kang

Forty Bibles and Forty Dictionaries

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Dedicated to her “irascible parents” from Korea, Kang’s debut memoir examines her childhood in Australia.

The author is the sister of David Kang, an Australian lawyer who, in 1994, fired blanks at Prince Charles in protest of the treatment of Cambodians in detention. Writing may have been cathartic, but Kang’s view of Brother, as she calls him, seems a mix of anger, animosity and admiration that he took a stand on principle. Inferences could be made about the deleterious effects of a dysfunctional family and Kang’s purported mental illness, but the circumstances of “the affray” are a long time coming. Though the story isn’t always told in chronological order, it is, on occasion, true to topic, as in Chapter 20, “Jackaling,” which delves into the paranormal. Some recollections are extremely brief: For instance, in one short recollection, the author describes watching her father develop photos. Perhaps not surprisingly, the parents, particularly “Mother,” are portrayed as incubators of trouble. An attractive young woman, Mother was fixated on marrying Father despite his disinterest and a warning from a Chinese astrologer. Soon, Father realized he had made a mistake, but due to pregnancy—Mother was carrying the author—the two remained together, providing an emotionally unstable home life in which intellectual expression was encouraged. Disparate vignettes, including a tale of mice invading their home, illustrate family dynamics but significantly delay what purports to be the main event, the incident with Prince Charles. The story becomes more focused in later chapters, in which Brother engages in various unsavory activities without adequate reprimand or reprisal, including writing letters to the editor that he attributes to unsuspecting family members. The dominant presence of Mother pervades. Her vicious verbal attacks, particularly on Father, were relentless and embarrassing. Eventually, the narrative takes a political turn, touching on racism and discrimination, and the author emerges as a wounded, alienated woman of intelligence and insight. There are periodic asides about members of the royal family, and the disjointed book ends, curiously, with recipes for Korean dishes. A fractured childhood may indeed yield a fractured memoir.

Winding tale of a dysfunctional family that eventually addresses the somewhat famous disturbance and its aftermath.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1922238016
Page count: 301pp
Publisher: Horizon Publishing Group
Program: Kirkus Indie
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