A fictional memoir, based on true events of love and horror during the Korean War.
Drawing upon his own experience as a soldier stationed in Korea in 1953, Thomas (The Genteel Poor, 2014, etc.) paints a ghastly picture of the ravages of war. The story begins with Sook Cha, a 12-year-old girl, witnessing the murder of her father and rape of her best friend at the hands of ruthless North Korean soldiers. Now alone in the world, she heads south in search of the means to survive. The world she inhabits is a perilous one, and even her fellow countrymen prove opportunistic and brutal. The threat of rape is omnipresent; she attempts to disguise herself as a boy, hoping it will deter potential attackers. She joins forces with an older woman traveling with a young girl and her child, and the four form a kind of impromptu family, eventually establishing a brothel in a notoriously tough neighborhood. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, Max, an American soldier stationed in Korea, wrestles with his own disillusionment and estrangement from his wife. He finds himself in a brothel and is introduced to a young, beautiful prostitute—Sook Cha. Immediately attracted to each other, the two take solace from the darkness that surrounds them. They fall deeply in love, but everything seems to conspire against their union. Even Max’s vindictive lieutenant attempts to draw them apart. Max desperately tries to make it work, investigating all of the ways he could manage to take Sook Cha with him back to the United States. While this is an achingly sorrowful tale filled with gritty depictions of human degradation and fear, it doesn’t gratuitously batter the reader with hopelessness. In fact, through all the austerity, glimmers of real love shine through. The author’s experience in Korea shines through as well, particularly in his historically astute depiction of the country and era. He aptly conveys the heights and depths of human capability.
An emotionally challenging but rewarding war novel.