For most people, Korea is an enigmatic country.
Personally, I know very little about Korean history and culture, so the book If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim intrigued me. We often learn of women who are caught in historical moments of transition and this story talks about someone living in that reality.
The novel paints a vivid picture of different periods in Korea during and after the war. The author boldly dives into the historical context by providing a story and characters who are too realistic with their many flaws and complexity.
According to reviewers, this novel is a work of art. The narrative is described as rich and compelling. The themes are said to be “powerfully revealed,” and the prose – “beautifully developed.”
The reviews and recommendations I read were very persuasive. Marie Claire magazine says, “Both a forbidden love story and a portrait of war and refugee life, If You Leave Me will tear at your heartstrings. A breath-taking can’t-put-down read.”
Author Jessica Shattuck describes this book as “a gripping, heartrending tale of the birth of modern Korea filtered through the prism of an intimate love story. Kim brings her characters to life – complicated, flawed and hard not to fall in love with. A strikingly original work.”
The beginning pages bring us to Korea in the 1950s. 16-year-old Haemi Lee, her mother and a younger brother with tuberculosis are forced to flee their village when the North’s communist forces invade.
As refugees, the three must learn to live with grace under pressure. Poverty, hunger, disease and fear shape their daily life. But as might be expected in the intense reality of war, the characters must make some heart-breaking decisions to survive the hostilities.
The reason I chose to feature this book is because it explores life under pressure in all its contradictory ways. Many women in our Sixty and Me community know very well how life often offers multi-coloured and complex scenarios but demands black and white answers.
If You Leave Me is, ultimately, a story of war and refugee life, a mother’s love for her children and a passionate and timeless romance. It is a story about love for family and country. It is about decisions and the consequences of our choices.
There is a predictable love triangle, there are the human responses to depression and war. But the book’s focus is on being imperfect and accepting of the way relationships and life unfold.
What’s the toughest situation you’ve found yourself in? Do you think there’s a book out there that fits your life story? Have you read If You Leave Me? Have you or a relative ever had to make a decision that has followed your family for a generation or longer? Please share in the comments below.