One Thousand Chestnut Trees, Korean/American writer Mira Stout
This is the story of a young New York artist, Anna, tracing her Korean roots. It is a interesting tale, told by Anna, her mother and her grandfather and is a mixture of Korean history with tales of a family legacy .
It has been nominated for several literary awards so this might be a recommendation for some. My reason for reading it was a work colleague travelling to South Korea and I though well if I cant go then I’m just going to have to go on my literary journey. So here I am. I have to admit that I was woefully ignorant of Korea and everything about the culture and people before I read this book.
It is a journey of personal discovery for Anna, the main protagonist, who half Irish and half Korean, is bullied due to her mixed heritage. She grows up in New England and in later years her uncle Hong visits. She realises once he’s gone however that she could have made an effort to get to know him and therefore find out about her heritage. It’s only when she is older and she loses her job in a bookstore (it closes) that she eventually makes the journey ‘back home’.
The book was interesting on many fronts as would be especially impressive to those of you who are fascinated with Korean history – from the horrors of the Japanese occupation to the split of the into the North and the South and the terrible war that ensued, through the modernization of Korea into a Westernized country that maintains its own unique Eastern identity and traditions.
If I did have the chance to go to Korea and this novel really got me thinking, I would like to visit many places there. It really does give you an insight into why and how Korea’s people/country first became segregated and how this segregation not only affects the day to day but also the mindset and the cultures of the people on both sides of the divide. After reading this book I now have a new found respect for Korea as a country and its people and I like to think that I have some sort of awareness surrounding the human angle of the news headlines that we are currently seeing in the news.
This is the story of the true Korea as it is the story of the Korean spirit.