16 Nov / The Magical Language of Others by E. J. Koh [in Library Journal]
That she’s fluent in Korean, Japanese, and English ensures a smooth double debut – as memoirist and narrator – for poet E. J. Koh (A Lesser Love). Her languid delivery is a lulling invitation into emotional intimacy. From her San Jose, California, birth into early childhood, Koh’s parents experienced typical immigrant lives: her father went to graduate school, her mother supported the family.
Her father’s degree and the 1990s Silicon Valley boom made the family comfortable, until her father received “a baffling job offer” from a Korean firm that made him “a top-tier executive” and reunited her mother with her beloved siblings after 17 years apart. Fifteen-year-old Koh was left in her 19-year-old brother’s care for a three-year separation that extended to five, then seven years.
Her mother’s letters were their tenuous bond. As a young adult, Koh rediscovers 49 of those missives; amid her painstaking translations, she intertwines her own memories, as if only now is she able to address the unbearable separation. What she unearths is “a constant dispensation of love.”
Admirers of resonating memoirs enhanced by their authors’ narration – Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Patti Smith’s Just Kids – will want to listen in.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult