Book Talk: A tale of love and loss, sisters and secrets

Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:31am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Korean-American Janie's family has lost a daughter in each generation, her grandmother says. So when her younger sister Hannah suddenly vanishes, Janie sets out to track her down through a labyrinth of family secrets and difficult history.

"Forgotten Country," Catherine Chung's debut novel, weaves Korean folklore and a host of linked and opposing pairs -- Korea and the United States, North and South Korea, American-born children and their immigrant parents, two very different sisters -- into a spare, haunting tale of loss, yearning and discovery.

Chung spoke with Reuters about writing, how her university mathematics major may have influenced her work, and her book, which goes on sale March 1 and has been praised by the likes of award-winning author Chang-rae Lee.

Q: What was your inspiration?

A: "There were a couple of stories that just got me started writing, and I didn't know at the time how they would come together. The story that happens at the beginning with the boy falling out of the window, the story about the hermit girl in Korea whose father raised her in seclusion from the rest of the world, and then there was the story about my father's sister. My father had a sister who disappeared when he was a child.

"I started writing and knew these stories were central in my mind but I didn't know how they all fit together. I had to make a story that could fold in all three... In the end, they're all about a certain kind of loss, trying to hold onto a world or a thing or a person that's already gone. The desire to save it."

Q: This kind of loss seems like something that might develop out of leaving a country or homeland.

A: "Yes, I think that they are related. There are conflicting desires. The first is to save the thing that is already gone and I guess the second is to move on, or to plunge into life in a certain way. How do you plunge into life and also hang onto the thing that is in the past, or is lost, or you are in the process of losing? A sort of pulling from both directions. It was about the tension of these two things."   Continued...