Book - 2017
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"Follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity"--
Publisher: New York :, Grand Central Publishing,, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781455563937
Characteristics: 490 pages ; 24 cm


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ArapahoeAnnaL Oct 19, 2019

A Korean family emigrates to Japan. A humane family saga spanning the years 1910 - 1989.

Oct 02, 2019

This nearly 500 page story of a Korean family in Japan over generations was such a pleasurable read. The novel grabbed me from the first sentence and kept my full attention until the end. It was truly a breathtaking achievement. This novel was overflowing with truth and the beauty and grace of a full heart. And it was an easy read. Major kudos to the author.

This novel is a really powerful look at the plight of immigrants. The novel asks what it really means to be part of any homeland. Is it birth? Is it blood? Or is it something else entirely? I knew little about the life of Koreans in Japan during the last century until reading this novel. It added another layer to my understanding of world history and the events that permeate the news of the day.

The story covers a lot of territory and time with a sweeping narrative, but it always felt intimate. Each of the days shared felt full. Even when years passed between chapters, it never felt unmoored from that intimacy.

The story highlights how we all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. It also reminds us that so few people know about their ancestors going back more than three generations. Even if a name is known, rarely is there a real sense of the person because most of the family stories don't get passed on.

The novel starts in 1910 as the Japanese occupy Korea. It then goes into WWII and the split occupation that follows, leaving Koreans with no more motherland as they deal with prejudice in Japan. The novel ends in 1989 with circumstances not much changed as far as prejudice or their homeland.

The first line was epic. First paragraph, one sentence, seven words. "History has failed us, but no matter."

Even though the story is a multigenerational family tale, it was also a love story of sorts. It had a faint reminder of the novel "Love in the Time of Cholera" as far as the unrequited love.

The novel really brought home what it is to lose ones homeland. Korea no longer existed after the war and even before that Japan was occupying Korea for decades. The prejudice the Koreans suffered at the hands of the Japanese describes prejudice everywhere. It spotlights how it is nearly impossible to fight against a stereotype that has nothing to do with reality, but nonetheless darkens reality forcing many to betray themselves to survive. The novel illuminates the conditions of war and prejudice as similar.

The author's writing style was superb. Not just the way the words flowed but in how the novel was structured. When the story went back in time, it was to show the reader something integral to the story, but just as it happened with no embellishments or explanations. As the story moved forward in time, it was elegant.

The story touches on so many things but always with the story of the family at its core. Besides immigration and prejudice, the novel touches on religion, war, success, shame, misogyny, forgiveness, and what it means to be a good person. Can a good man remain so in the face of insurmountable obstacles? In the face of success? In the face of extreme poverty? Being poor in normal times is hard, in war time it's a thousand times more so. One line said it all: In the end, your belly was your emperor.

There were many great descriptions that were concise and powerful. For the most part, the story was very low-key in its telling. There was not a lot of clever prose for the sake of being clever. There were no insights put in for show. It was all very understated and elegant. Very clean is how I would describe the prose. Not ornate like a piece of music by Bach, but smooth like playing Chopin on the piano.

There were some great twists and turns that always seemed authentic (except maybe a time or two). At one point the story had a bit of a turn as a thriller.

When I got to the end, I felt very emotional. It surprised me to feel my throat catch and my eyes well up. I felt the novels ache across my body.

Sep 12, 2019

Great book, very interesting and well written. The end went on a bit long in my opinion, but overall, I really enjoyed it.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Sep 03, 2019

I really enjoyed (and learned from) this multi-generational tale of Koreans living in Japan during the twentieth century.

Aug 23, 2019

I really loved this book. The third book was my favorite. The last chapter was really beautiful and I liked how it ended.

Jul 30, 2019

kate baer

Jul 28, 2019

Highly recommended

Jul 19, 2019

Korean epic; I didn't finish it.

Jun 22, 2019

This is one of the worst books I have read this year. What a waste of my time! The story was OK nothing fantastic and the writing was terrible. The prose consisted of short sentences so that when reading it it didn't flow. The dialogue seemed like it was written by a 10 year old. How does a book like this get an award as one of the best fiction books of 2017?
I would have given up half way but only kept with it so that I could write a comment on it.

It seems to me that the books I enjoy the most are the books that haven't won any awards. Usually the books that I choose that have won awards are the most disappointing.

How does a person know which books are good? It is a dilemma for me because I am always looking for a good book to read.

Jun 09, 2019

"You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let's see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants."
Sprawling and deeply felt family saga set in Korea and Japan. It covers several generations and so has a bit of the feel of a Victorian novel, although there's plenty of sex. Lee wrestles with issues of identity, home, and family in ways that are usually insightful and compelling. It runs a little long (close to 500 pages), but it is ambitious and covers a lot of ground.

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Aug 23, 2017

Sexual Content: explicit sexual content


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Aug 23, 2019

Yoseb could understand the boy’s anger, but he wanted another chance to talk to him, to tell Noa that a man must learn to forgive—to know what is important, that to live without forgiveness was a kind of death with breathing and movement.

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