09 Jul / If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim [in Booklist]
Hunger, both physical and emotional, haunts the lives of the extended Lee-Yun family during the tumultuous, violent decades that define modern South Korea in the latter-20th century. Haemi and Kyunghwan are childhood playmates in the final years of Japan’s brutal colonization, then become desperate, hard-drinking refugee teens in the midst of falling in love when the country is cleaved in two, only to regretfully separate in the final years of the Korean War.
To satisfy her family’s needs for food, respect, and status, Haemi marries Kyunghwan’s second cousin, Jisoo, and seems to lose them both to the conflagration. Jisoo, damaged but alive, returns to Haemi to join her survivalist mother and her sickly younger brother. Through postwar industrialization, political upheaval, and civilian protests, Haemi struggles with loss after loss, giving birth to four daughters, falling more and more into despair with each. Her inevitable reunion with Kyunghwan sets in motion unavoidable devastation.
New York born, Columbia MFA-holding Crystal Hana Kim won a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers in 2017 for “Solee,” part of an interconnected story collection that became this, her debut novel. Kim renders her multi-voiced, multi-layered ancestral and cultural history into stupendous testimony and indelible storytelling.