A captivating debut novel from Chicago-based author Park.
Soo-Ja is the bright and beautiful daughter of a hardworking factory owner in Daegu, South Korea. The nation is still recovering from the ravages of the Peninsula War, and the regime of Syngman Rhee is on its last legs, but tradition still holds sway. Women marry and serve the needs of their husband's family. Soo-Ja has a suitor, handsome Min, a dabbler in the student demonstrations against Rhee's oppression, but she also has an opportunity to study for the foreign service. Her father insists her duty is to marry, and Soo-Ja has Min's promise to move to Seoul so that she can become a diplomat. A marriage is arranged, but Min has lied. He refuses to leave his autocratic father. Soo-Ja immediately regrets declining a last-minute proposal from an intense young medical student, Yul. Stoically, Soo-Ja fulfills her duty, which from a Western point of view is that of a housekeeper and servant for her in-laws. Soo-Ja's first child is a girl, much to the regret of Min's family, a situation worsened when Soo-Ja refuses to have another child. Min's father mismanages his business into financial ruin, borrows money from Soo-Ja's father and flees to America with his family. Soo-Ja, Min and daughter Hana are left behind in shame. Park's novel can be read as a contemplation of loss and the angst of unrequited love, much like Dr. Zhivago. Soo-Ja and Yul encounter each other in Pusan and later in Seoul, where Soo-Ja is managing a hotel. Readers will be intrigued as Soo-Ja breaks from tradition to take control of her destiny, an emotionally charged personal drama played out against the backdrop of energetic South Korea as it transitions from a war-torn and oppressed country into a prosperous modern nation.
Protagonist Soo-Ja's story will enthrall in this first-rate literary effort.