Fabulous Fiction Firsts #318

Debut novelist Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country * * is praised by reviewers as "superb", "elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful", "darkly luminous"; endorsed and favorably compared to works by Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee. And I was not disappointed.

Janie (Jeehyun), bookish, dutify and the older of two girls from an immigrant Korean family must set aside her academic pursuits (University of Chicago) to returm home to Michigan to care for her father who has just been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. More pressing still is her parents' insistance that she finds her younger sister Hannah (Haejin), who disappeared over a year ago. Janie is resentful because of their prickly relationship and the rivalry, but also fearful because of her knowledge of the family's legacy that for three generations they have lost a daughter, circumstances often shrouded in mystery.

When her father decides to seek experimental treatment, the family returns to Korea, a homecoming that is both bittersweet and illuminating, making clear the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier. Like invisible threads, the fragile and implacable bonds of shared history could hold a family together even across the seemingly impassable chasm of different cultures and changing generations.

The jacket cover mentioned that the author lived in Michigan and the character Janie attended the University of Michigan. I was curious and contacted Catherine Chung (author website). Here is what she wrote:

"My family moved to Okemos, Michigan when I was eight years old, and I grew up and went to school there. My father was a professor at Michigan State--I don't have any official connection to Ann Arbor: I just had a lot of friends who went to school there and visited often!"

For further reading on the Asian immigrant experience, try Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and Bich Minh Nguyen's Short Girls (also set in Michigan and Ann Arbor).

* * =Starred reviews

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