Helie embarks on a spiritual quest to integrate the two cultures, traveling to Korea and China to re-experience her family's recent history. Frustrated when she can't connect, feeling not foreign but a failure as a Korean, she realizes the answers lie in the memories of her living family. She returns home to "ask all those long-ignored questions I never bothered with since I was too busy exploiting my privileges as an American teenager."
The memories she taps are those of her grandmother, Hongyong Lee, who is so completely Korean and yet is responsible for Helie being an American. Helie relates Hongyong's story in the first person, content to step aside and hear her grandmother speak. The resulting narrative is splendid in its simplicity and powerful with love.
Hongyong's childhood and married life were prewar Korean. More than her traditional upbringing, what separates Hongyong from Helie is the war she experienced as the mother of young children. The Korean Conflict cost Hongyong her husband and eldest son, her property, her country, and the tradition that ruled her life. All of these losses indelibly colored Hongyong's future.
Hongyong's daughter Duckwah, Helie's mother, was a thoroughly modern Korean in the midst of collapsing tradition. She and her husband left Korea for America so their children would never know war.
Through hearing and telling Hongyong's story, Helie discovers her cultural coordinates and locates herself in the present. She achieves an admirable balance in the maelstrom of changes experienced by all women in this century. [continues]
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