If You Leave Me
by Kim, Crystal Hana

Forced into the life of a refugee when the North Korean army invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi is forced to choose between love and security in ways that resonate throughout generations of her family.

*Starred Review* Hunger, both physical and emotional, haunts the lives of the extended Lee-Yun family during the tumultuous, violent decades that define modern South Korea in the latter twentieth century. Haemi and Kyunghwan are childhood playmates in the final years of Japan's brutal colonization, then become desperate, hard-drinking refugee teens in the midst of falling in love when the country is cleaved in two, only to regretfully separate in the final years of the Korean War. To satisfy her family's needs for food, respect, and status, Haemi marries Kyunghwan's second cousin, Jisoo, and seems to lose them both to the conflagration. Jisoo, damaged but alive, returns to Haemi to join her survivalist mother and her sickly younger brother. Through postwar industrialization, political upheaval, and civilian protests, Haemi struggles with loss after loss, giving birth to four daughters, falling more and more into despair with each. Her inevitable reunion with Kyunghwan sets in motion unavoidable devastation. New York born, Columbia MFA-holding Kim won a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers in 2017 for "Solee," part of an interconnected story collection that became this, her debut novel. Kim renders her multivoiced, multilayered ancestral and cultural history into stupendous testimony and indelible storytelling. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

In this debut novel, a love triangle is complicated by temperament, circumstance, and history: Korea, 1951-1967. We meet Haemi Lee at 16, in a refugee camp. The war between North and South has forced what is left of her family—her mother and her invalid younger brother—from their village. In her boredom, she's begun going out at night with a boy named Kyunghwan—they ride a bicycle into town and find ways to drink makgeolli and have some fun. The problem is that by day, she's being courted by this boy's wealthier, orphaned cousin, Jisoo. Jisoo wants to marry Haemi before he enlists, mainly so that he can have the sense that there's a family waiting for him at home when he returns. Haemi's decision plays out over the next 16 years, a time of great upheaval in the lives of all Koreans. The perspective on the action is split among five first-person narrators—the three already mentioned, Haemi's younger brother, and one of her daughters—and leaps ove r years at a time. This both expands the scope of the story and muffles its emotional power. Most interesting is the character of Haemi, who knows something is wrong with her, something that manifests as irritability, dissatisfaction, impulsivity, and an inability to connect deeply with those closest to her. In a world without diagnoses, therapists, or antidepressants, she will face a challenge even greater than the romantic one—becoming a mother. The character of Haemi is fascinating, her predicament a kind of Korean Virginia Woolf situation. Though this bulky saga is not as compelling as it could be, Kim's portrayal of the effects of mental illness on a family at a psychologically naïve time is perceptive and moving. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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