Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Review: Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Janie and Hannah have been at odds at some point in their adolescence, but when escapes Janie. They are Jeehyun and Haejin, the Americanized Korean daughters of expatriates forced to leave their home by their father’s actions. Janie was born in Korea and Hannah in America, but their lives, colored by fairy tales of their homeland, are unmoored from their traditions and roots as they become more and more American.
Hannah disappears without a word and Janie, who was supposed to look after her so her sister would not die as her mother’s sister had died in Korea. One daughter from every generation is at risk, but Janie’s mother never said why or what happened to her. Janie must find Hannah and bring her back; it is her duty.
Catherine Chung writes simply about Janie, Hannah, and their family caught in a complex web of half told stories and family traditions that have lost their power in America. Forgotten Country carried me like a fast moving freight train through the lives of the characters, drawing me toward a conclusion that was brief and jarring. It was a seven-course meal with some of the courses left out, but does not suffer too much by the loss. The sparkling narrative carried me through my momentary questions.
Some of the mysteries were not explained fully, but what Chung does brilliantly is write the minutiae of life and give it power and presence. The clash of Western and Eastern sensibilities is as central to the story as the break between Janie and Hannah. It mirrors the struggle of sisters separated by loyalties, Janie’s to her parents and her filial duty and Hannah to getting as far from her family as possible.
While there were some questions left unanswered, Forgotten Country stays with you in the unique characters and the stunning depth of emotion, the lyrical descriptions, and the all too human emotions offered like priceless pearls. Forgotten Country will become an oft read treasure.