TRANSLATIONS OF BEAUTY by Mia Yun

TRANSLATIONS OF BEAUTY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The troubled relations between twin sisters who grew up among the Korean immigrants of New York.

Twins, so they say, have a strange psychic bond. True or not, it is indisputable that twin sisters Inah and Yunah are exceptionally—perhaps excruciatingly—close. They were born in 1973 in South Korea of parents who were both schoolteachers; their childhood was happy and unremarkable until about the age of six, when Inah was horribly scalded in a kitchen accident that left her face permanently disfigured. Knowing that such a handicap would doom their daughter to the life of an outcast in Korea, Mom and Dad emigrated with Inah and Yunah to New York, where the family settled in the heavily Korean neighborhood of Flushing and Dad took a job at his uncle Shin’s trading company in Manhattan. Yunah narrates half of the story in flashback, describing the twins’ childhood, while in alternate chapters she gives a present-day account of her trip to visit Inah in Italy (where she has lately fled after dropping her graduate studies at Oxford and backpacking through India). Uncommunicative and sullen, Inah makes it clear that she resents her sister’s following her to Europe, and most of their time together in Italy is taken up in bickering and recrimination. Over what? The failure of Ina’s Oxford career? Their father’s temporary abandonment of their mother for another woman? The blight of Ina’s disfigurement? Or something else, something deeper and less accessible? Sibling rivalry can last for years, of course, and the closer the bond the greater the turmoil. So the two are in for a pretty good fight.

A good saga of family life and traumas that calls out for a brisker pace and a lighter touch: Second-novelist Yun (House of the Winds, 1998) drags the story on too long before we see the point—yet after we’ve gotten the picture.

Pub Date: June 15th, 2004
ISBN: 0-7434-8356-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004