Debut memoirist Choi recounts a memorable journey from poverty in war-torn Korea to entrepreneurial success in the United States.
The author was born in China in 1942, but raised in Seoul during a time of extraordinary political unrest. He was only 8 years old when the Korean War erupted, cleaving the nation in half. The same year, his father, Choi Hyungwoo—an activist, author, and journalist who had once agitated for Korean independence from Japan with future North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung—was arrested and never seen by his family again; the family thought that he might have been taken to North Korea and executed, but they weren’t certain. The author’s mother, Yoo Taejung, struggled to care for Choi and his siblings on her own, and fled Seoul with them due to fear for their safety. The author movingly documents his relentless drive for success, noting how he earned a degree in political science from Korea University, moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1969, on a quest for new opportunities, and finally started his export company, K-C International. He achieved impressive things against considerable odds, both as a businessman and as a family man; he married his wife, Hahn Myungki, whom he calls his “soulmate,” in Portland, fathered three daughters, and eventually brought his mother and sister to the United States, as well. In 1993, the North Korean government officially invited the family to Pyongyang, where they met two long-lost half brothers. Choi dined with Kim Il Sung himself, but was largely soured by his experience; he was also appalled by the combination of political oppression and poverty in the country: “As a Korean descendant, I could not bear to witness the peculiar and horrifying phenomena of North Korea’s system of government.” The author’s life is cinematically dramatic, and his accomplishments come off as all the more admirable, given his tone of humility in this memoir. His prose is clear and unembellished, but his story is powerful enough to be inspiring without any poetical adornment. Overall, Choi’s work seamlessly combines astute political commentary with a stirring remembrance of his own personal triumphs.
An engaging success story that’s steeped in Korean history.