BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil, translated by Takami Nieda [in Shelf Awareness]

Debut author Chesil commemorated the end of her 20s by writing a novel based on her childhood experiences. The result, The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart, is a literary triumph that’s both outstanding storytelling and searing societal commentary.

“High school was as cruel as ever,” Ginny Park comments. She’s facing expulsion at her latest school in Oregon after being forced out of Hawaii and Tokyo. To understand why is to return to her Tokyo middle school where Ginny was Jinhee Pak, a Zainichi Korean, someone born in Japan of ethnic Korean heritage.

When Jinhee transferred from a Japanese to Korean school in sixth grade, whatever cultural and social benefits she might have gleaned from being educated by and with other Zainichi was initially overshadowed by her inability to speak Korean, making her an easy target for bullies. When a North Korean missile flown over Japan makes headlines, Jinhee – and all Korean students – become prominent public scapegoats, immediately identifiable by their school uniforms. The children’s actions pale in comparison to those of vicious and indifferent adults. Jinhee’s attempts to reclaim some semblance of justice and autonomy sets in motion her international odyssey.

First published in 2016 and awarded multiple major prizes in Japan, The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart arrives in English translation from Takami Nieda who also translated Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO, another incandescent young adult novel about the Zainichi experience. The contentious history of Korea and Japan continues to lead to a devaluation of ethnic Koreans as second-class citizens in Japan. The specific and universal quests to belong echo back to Chesil’s original title, Jini no pazuru (Jini’s Puzzle), searching for all the ways to fit the pieces together and finally make herself whole.

Review: “Children & Young Adult,” Shelf Awareness, April 26, 2022

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2016 (Korea), 2022 (United States)


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