A masterful blend of personal, family, and national history set against the backdrop of South Korea's long fight for independence and democracy. Kang, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, combines fastidious academic research and personal recollection to create a vibrant, often disturbing account of a country caught in a centuries-long clash between world superpowers. The period of Japanese colonialism is embodied in the story of Kang's paternal grandfather, Myong-Hwan Kang, whose mind and spirit were shattered when he was twice arrested and tortured for nationalist activities. Celebration over the end of Japanese domination with their loss in WW II was interrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War. In 1946, when Kang was three, she and her mother escaped from their home in the north, going first to Seoul and then to a refugee camp in Pusan; they waited there over a year for passports so that they could rejoin Kang's father in Tokyo, where he was working as an interpreter for the American government. Finally, the two made an illegal crossing and were detained by the Japanese and finally released on bond, still without passports. Kang walks the line between Korean, Japanese, and American culture, and is acutely aware of the tensions among these separate worlds. As a woman she is intellectually attracted to the freedom inherent in American culture, but emotionally she is drawn toward her country of birth, despite its complex social hierarchies. When her parents join her in San Francisco in 1975, they are forced to start from scratch in a new country that does not credit them for past victories. The two buy a grocery store and are perceived like many other Korean immigrants -- as if they come from a race of storekeepers who have little other experience. Deft and timely, this helps dispel many misconceptions about one of our nation's least understood immigrant populations.