Tuesday, September 4, 2018

G1029 Book Review of If you leave me by CRYSTAL HANA KIM

Name of Book: If You Leave Me

Author: Crystal Hana Kim

ISBN: 978-0-06-264517-3

Publisher: William and Morrow

Type of book: South Korea, Korean War, 1951-1967, love triangle, marriage, motherhood, family, Park Chung-Hee, society, school, choices, veterans, voting, surviving, fun

Year it was published: 2018


An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that continues to haunt us today

When the communist-backed army from the North invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.


Main characters would be Haemi, Kyunghwan and Kyunghwan's cousin Jisoo. Haemi is the oldest sister who tries to take care of her younger brother as well as her mother from the day her father has died. In beginning she is best described as someone who is reckless and is unafraid; someone who puts her pleasure first. But then as novel goes on and Haemi ages, she changes too. She becomes frightened, unhappy and feels as if she must sacrifice herself to keep others afloat. In beginning Kyunghwan is afraid of commitment but yet he knows Haemi very well. Looking back on the story as well, Kyunghwan seemed to think he doesn't deserve happiness, although he tries to gain it. He tends to look down on himself a lot, in my opinion.Towards the end, Kyunghwan does change and he seems to have overcome the negative self perception he has of himself. Jisoo, forgive me for saying it, seems like a very familiar and selfish man. Jisoo seems to have little to no interest in getting to know Haemi and cares more for appearances and reputation rather than the inside of the person. There are other characters as well like Haemi's daughters, her younger brother and her mother who played a big role in their lives, but mainly the focus is on Haemi.


Real life is very difficult


The story is told in first person narrative from multiple characters' points of view, and it stretches from 1951 until 1967. This is not a story of happiness, but instead is a tale of life, of thwarted plans and of fighting desires. It does provide a large scope into South Korea post Korean War and in a lot of ways is reminiscent of a Korean movie I watched, The Classic. In other words, this is not a rags to riches tale, but instead is of daily life and the effects it has on various characters. It's also not often taht I find a tale that captures motherhood accurately, and yet this one does.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Crystal Hana Kim holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and an MS in Education from Hunter College. SHe ahs received numerous awards, including PEN America's Story Prize for Emerging Writers, along with fellowships and support from the Bread Loaf's Writers Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She si currently a writing instructor for Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America and a contributing editor at APogee Journal., Born and raised in New York, she currently lives in Chicago. This is her first novel.


I don't know where to begin. First of all I did love the book and the tale. I love reading and learning things about South Korea, and this definitely satisfied that craving, especially seeing the 1950s and 1960s, post Korean War, which is something I don't really see. I loved that it helped unite my modern historical knowledge of South Korea. Reading it though, was an exhaustive experience in a lot of ways. Being a mother to a little boy, and still remember my life in 2016 as well as 2017, I can really understand Haemi's emotions as well as her inability to articulate her unhappiness simply because of society and of how people around her won't understand her emotions. There is a feeling of being caged into a role and the knowledge that the key is thrown away and one can't escape, no matter what they try. From little I know of Korean culture, mental health isn't acknowledged and people tend to not discuss their emotions. What I also find interesting is the contrast of Haemi's life with that of her true love, Kyunghwan, for Kyunghwan's life isn't much happier than Haemi's. Kyunghwan isn't married nor does he have obligations, but he isn't happy as well and what he desires he cannot have. IF YOU LEAVE ME by Crystal Hana Kim is certainly a novel that will not leave your mind or thoughts any time soon.

This was given for the review

5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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