A Korean-American writer's limpid first novel records the progress of its unnamed narrator's girlhood in Seoul in the early 1960s. Her doting mother (long known as ""Young Wife"") is a bewitching repository of fanciful tales festooned with magical-realist drollery: birds cry rather than sing, and butterflies house the souls of children who have died in their sleep. Subtly linked episodes are dominated by such vivid figures as Young Wife's own mother, an ""infamous hypochondriac"" and inexhaustible fount of stories; infrequent visits from ""the stranger who was said to be my father""; an irreverent peddler (the Falstaffian ""Pumpkin Wife""); a house haunted by weeping women ghosts; and the narrator's saddened farewells to her parents and siblings on embarkation to America. A lovely, lyrical coming-of-age tale, graced by judiciously blended notes of humor and melancholy. A superlative debut.