In Devine’s debut novel, war and traditional Confucianism tear apart an idyllic Korean family.
Eum-chun and her husband, Gui-yong, have been married for 15 years and are deeply in love. Although they adore their adopted daughter, Mi-Na, they fail to produce a son—a serious problem in their deeply traditional society. Gui-yong eventually gives in to his mother’s wishes and marries a second woman, Soo-yang, hoping she will deliver a boy to carry on the family name. Although Eum-chun tries to bear the situation bravely, she’s devastated, and cracks soon begin to form in the seemingly perfect family. The novel, set against the backdrop of the Korean War, follows four main characters as they navigate their new family and the chaos that ravages the land. Devine’s prose richly describes everyday life in 1950s Korea, and the war effectively parallels the battle raging in the family home—an insurmountable rift divides the family, just as it does their country. It’s a realistic sketch of a Korea that few Westerners have seen, depicting a patriarchal society that limits women’s choices, and each character faces a unique battle stemming from that unfortunate situation. Each of their stories is rich with emotion, and their problems give the novel depth and complexity. Most compelling are the struggles of Eum-chun, Mi-Na and Soo-yang as they fight to create their own identities; although they all fight similar battles, they cannot fight them together, as their society has driven wedges between them. Their resulting stories are often melancholy and achingly beautiful.
A complex, uniquely Korean love story that shouldn’t be missed.