Monday, April 29, 2013

Forgotten Country

Forgotten Country
Catherine Chung

Forgotten Country

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.

Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement.

Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another

Review:  Unfortunately, the summary doesn't reflect what the book was really about; it plays up a mystery that doesn't even exist.  I'd say a more accurate description would be a family struggling to regain connections when the father is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  While I would expect a book that depicts a main character dying of cancer to be tremendously sad (which it was), there were several other unrelated stories that added to the overall bleak feeling I had when I finished the book. 

Janie, the narrator and dutiful daugther, is resentful towards her younger and more free-spirited sister, Hannah.  And Hannah, in turn, seems to have little regard for the other members of her family.  I had hoped that the girls would be brought together by the death of their father, but that didn't seem to happen; they seem remarkably unchanged at the end of the novel.  There were numerous scenes where I wanted to shout out "Stop fighting over the same old thing in front of your dying father and explain how you really feel, and make sure your sister knows you really do love her!" 

The descriptions of rural Korea made it seem lovely, and the Korean folk stories related by the narrator were hauntingly beautiful, although I didn't always see the relevance to the novel.  I enjoyed learning a little more about Korean culture, I just wish the character development had been stronger.

Rating:  3 stars

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