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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung [in Library Journal]

Forgotten CountryAs Janie weeps over her first-ever separation from her mother, who is about to give birth, her grandmother admonishes her with the grave responsibility Janie must bear for her new sibling. “In our family … a sister always dies,” her grandmother warns, sharing the horrific tale of her own infant sister’s death during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

Two decades later, living Stateside, Janie’s family is in crisis: sister Hannah has severed family ties, while their father faces terminal cancer. Seeking the latest treatments, her parents return to Korea, charging Janie with bringing Hannah back. The sisters’ devastating confrontation sends Janie alone to rejoin her parents and extended family, each scarred by the terrifying legacy of colonial occupation, war, dangerous politics, and a fractured country.

Verdict: No argument that the prize-winning Chung writes elegiac, exquisite, multilayered prose, yet her debut ultimately falters between too much (self-absorption overload, cousin Gabe’s death, sleazy adviser) and not enough (Hannah’s disappearance, her uncle’s silence). For greater satisfaction, readers might try Sonya Chung’s Long for This World or Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, February 1, 2012

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


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