Arts & Leisure

Book review: The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir — by E. J. Koh

(Tin House Books)
A memoir penned by a poet is pure delight to read, and this particular poet has penned an astonishing memoir. First the structure is unique: Koh translated letters, composed in Korean, that her mother sent to her over the course of the years Koh and her brother were left in the United States while their parents returned to Korea for a job opportunity her father could not pass up. The letters themselves, in handwritten Korean, are also reproduced in the book, complete with her mother’s often erroneous translations into English for her daughter (“She writes, I have to assert and promote myself (propaganda)”). The letters reveal the middle path her mother strove to attain as she vacillated between feeling guilt for leaving and trying to convince her daughter it was all for the best. And then Koh, author of the award-winning poetry collection “A Lesser Love,” also delves into the history of her ancestors — her grandmother’s family witness and victims of the Jeju Island Massacre that began in 1948 — attempting to come to terms with those repercussions. One of my favorite parts, however, were the many gentle admonishments from “mommy” to her daughter, woven throughout the book… “Let’s always try to live with a bright, beaming heart.”
— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop
 

10 More by Asian and Asian American Women
The Incendiaries, by R. O. Kwon
The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
The Leavers, by Lisa Ko
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

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