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The Interpreter by Suki Kim + Author Profile [in KoreAm Journal]

InterpreterInterpreting the Immigrant’s Life: Urban girl Suki Kim makes her literary debut

NEW YORK CITY — Suki Kim has a fantasy about “meeting all the many Asian Americans across the country.” She’s heard rumors that there are Asian Americans in almost every corner of the United States — “even in Idaho!” she says with a laugh — but she wants to see for herself.

“I think it would be really fascinating to go to those places and have dialogues. I hear that they’re everywhere,” Kim says. This from an urban girl who explains that she’s hard-pressed to even see a Caucasian on her block in her diverse Manhattan neighborhood.

That chance to travel is happening now with the publication of her debut novel, The Interpreter (published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux), about a young Korean American woman, Suzy Park, living in New York City and searching for answers as to why her shopkeeper parents were brutally murdered. “I somehow think that this book might do really well with college students — it has that edge to it,” she says.

Manil Suri, author of the luminous bestseller The Death of Vishnu, thinks it should do well with anyone and everyone. “Here is a story about Korean immigrants told in a voice that refuses to be typecast as ‘Asian American Writing In Capital Letters.’ It is noir-ish more than anything else. Simply because that is what this story, which builds up suspense in subtle yet deft ways, demands.”

Indeed, Kim’s novel is hardly just another immigrant story. It’s not autobiographical for the most part, Kim says, although, like her protagonist Suzy Park, Kim spent time working in New York as an interpreter. However, Kim admits, “There must be some of me in Suzy Park, for sure, as well as in some other characters. You do have to start from somewhere.”

Kim takes seeds from her own experiences and then gives the story a life of its own. “You take a thread of something you might have seen or experienced, and start weaving.”

Kim’s own life has been a series of interwoven cultures, languages, and identities. Born in Seoul, Kim arrived in New York at the age of 13 with her parents and two siblings. While her parents worked endless hours in Korean-owned delis, Kim taught herself English by reading constantly — with her trusty Korean/English dictionary in hand. She graduated from Barnard College, with a  major in English and a minor in East Asian Literature. She headed to London immediately after graduation, where she mixed academia with bartending at one of London’s premiere fringe theaters. …[click here for more]

Author profile: “Interpreting the Immigrant’s Life: Urban girl Suki Kim makes her literary debut,” KoreAm Journal, February 2003

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003


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