Well, Sam, you did it. I have you to thank for these dark circles under my eyes, because there were three nights in a row I stayed up WAY too late reading THIS BURNS MY HEART when I should have been sleeping!
This novel was not only beautiful, but it was an interesting exploration into the anatomy of a wrong decision.
Here's the back copy to give you an idea of the plot, because I'm terrified of giving away too much:
On the eve of her marriage, beautiful and strong-willed Soo-Ja Choi receives a passionate proposal from a young medical student. But caught up in her desire to pursue a career in Seoul, she turns him away, having impetuously chosen another man who she believes will let her fulfill her dreams. Instead, she finds herself tightly bound by tradition and trapped in a suffocating marriage, her ambition reduced to carving out a successful future for her only daughter. Through it all, she longs for the man she truly loves, whose path she seems destined to cross again and again....
What I loved about this book:
- The characters felt real and I think this was because Samuel Park did an expert job giving each one depth. As a writer, I know what a temptation it can be to make our characters extreme. We want to make our villains purely evil and our heroines purely good, but Park's characters were never wholly evil or wholly good. They were a mix and balance, just like real people are. Soo-Ja does make a bad decision when she marries her husband, Min. But Min isn't purely bad. Park could have easily made him a drunk wife beater, but he held back so that I liked, pitied and hated Min at different points in the novel. I felt this way about all Park's characters. I was in awe of main character, Soo-Ja, and of course liked her and could relate to her, but I was aware of her flaws, too.
- There is a portion of the book that I cannot describe without spoiling it for other readers ... but in this portion my heart bled for Soo-Ja and I could not put the book down even though I knew it would mean I would only get a few hours sleep. Perhaps it was the mother in me that related to her so strongly and it's true-- Soo-Ja had a three-year-old daughter and I also have a three-year-old daughter. I could imagine myself going through her situation, imagine the panic attached to it, imagine my own daughter as the victim. Ugh! It was intense! (Incidentally, my dreams after I finally went to sleep were very weird that night.) Bravo, Samuel, for making me feel so strongly for your characters!
- You all probably know I have a soft-spot in my heart for Asian novels. I love novels set in China, especially, but Korea has to be a close second. When we worked in China, seventy-percent of the kids in our international school were Korean nationals. Koreans were some of my husband's favorite students and my kids' best friends. I also got to rub shoulders with many Korean moms and eat their kim bop. So, even though I've only been to Korea once, I found the setting for this novel and the cultural nuances absolutely fascinating. I love enjoying an amazing, heartfelt story and also learning about a different part of the world at the same time.
- Along those same lines, I loved the time period Park chose for this novel. I didn't know a lot of Korean history from this era (1960's & 70's) and I feel more educated now. The descriptions of the protests at the beginning of the novel were fascinating, as were the details about the city of Seoul near the end.
If you missed it, I interviewed Author Samuel Park last Wednesday about query letters and first pages, and thanks to Simon and Schuster's generosity, I'm able to award a free paperback copy of THIS BURNS MY HEART to one lucky commenter from that post.
Without further ado, the winner is (thanks to Random.org) :
I hope everyone has a great rest of the week. We're on spring break here, which, when you have five kids, translates into craziness. I'll be posting again next Monday. Until then, enjoy your spring!
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.