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Acute food shortages and lawlessness plague communist-occupied Seoul at the start of the Korean War in 1950. Jimin, a sixteen-year-old boy, aches to return to the safety of his old home on Ockdo (Jade Island), a remote island he'd left five years earlier. But only his father, who is absent from home, knows the way.
His adversary, a man who's been plotting to wipe out Jimin's family and steal their island, brings a tragedy and tries to eliminate him, forcing him to traverse the war-torn country on foot with his seven-year-old sister to find his father. But the war sweeps across the country multiple times and hinders them from meeting up with their father.
Back in Seoul, with Chinese troops (who invade the country to prop up the communists) bearing down on them, Jimin is forced to join the army, leaving his sister alone, hungry, and homeless in the cold, bomb-devastated city.
With action and suspense, Tendrils of Life is a rich and intriguing historical and literary novel, interwoven with gripping character-oriented narratives and full of visual detail. It's a story of love and hope, greed and revenge, and the quest for survival in the turmoil of war - a depiction of resilience of the human spirit.
"To many the Korean
War remains a distant memory... Now we have a potent novel that explores what
happened to the Korean people before and during this war... So much more could
be said about this surprising, fascinating novel ... Highly recommended
historical fiction!" -Crystal Book Reviews "An emotional
roller-coaster, Tendrils of Life not only tugged at my heartstrings as a
reader, it strummed and plucked them through a whole range of emotions like a
well-played harp. I could not put it down - I worried for them as if the
characters were neighbors and friends of mine ..." -BookIdeas "It was
enlightening to read this story, which sets forth the suffering of this people,
who to this day still suffer... I could not put this book down as itfilled in many of the empty spaces for me
during those times when our veterans did not come home jubilant, but rather
bitter and damaged." -Joan Adamak, Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer. "The overall
journey through the war-torn country of the main characters is depicted with so
much visual detail that I felt hunger, pain, sorrow, loneliness and despair as
I read each chapter. It's a literary gem." -Digital Journal "It reads like a
Korean 'Lonesome Dove'... A roller coaster, I had to stay with it because I was
so invested in the characters that I finished it very quickly." -Barbara
Jackson, Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
From the Author
To print the List of Characters or Map, please visit owenchoi.com and go to the Printing Instructions tab.
Tendrils of Life takes you through the turmoil of war in Korea at the end of World War II and the Pacific War with the surrender of the Empire of Japan. Choi writes a detailed narrative of the plight of the Korean people during the time-frame when their beloved country is torn in two by outside forces. He weaves the historical events through the eyes of his main characters as they struggle to survive the injustices and strife that war brings. Readers need not be familiar with the Korean War to appreciate the story. Choi's writing is non-linear, using flashbacks at strategic points in the novel to give us the back-story of the characters while driving the action forward in the present. The novel could easily be transcribed into a screenplay, as the historical framework, visual detail and pace of the story are not unlike a cinematic movie -- similar to other novels which have successfully been made into films such as Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor or Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet.
The overall journey through the war-torn country of the main characters -- Jimin, his little sister Misern, his soul mate Sora, his arch-nemesis Sinman and others -- is depicted with so much visual detail that I felt hunger, pain, sorrow, loneliness and despair as I read each chapter. What is unique in this story is that the main character Jimin is not portrayed as a typical hero -- he is not particularly strong nor is he brave. However, every time he looks death in the eye, his faith, love and determination to survive overcome the impossible.
I was so moved by the story and enjoyed every word. I felt as though I was right there beside Jimin, Sora, Teacher Yang, Jimin's father and even Sinman. I loved how the story was brought together at the end. Knowing now the real reason for all the trouble brought closure for me. It made sense to have heard the different points of view from each of the main characters. In addition to the narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed the historical information interwoven between the chapters. It helped me place the story in context with the actual events of the war.
Tendrils of Life is a literary gem, a novel I recommend to readers, especially those who appreciate good writing and historical fiction. I anticipate more novels by Owen Choi and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.Read more ›
This reviewer was a young married woman to a WWII veteran when the U.S. went to war against Korea, and since all WWII veterans were in the reserves for ten years following WWII, we all held our breath as to whether our men would go into battle again. At least in our part of the country, no veterans were recalled and since having read and heard the news from the U.S. point of view and how American soldiers suffered from the cold, and the cruelty if captured by North Koreans, it was enlightening to read this story, which sets forth the suffering of this people, who to this day still suffer.
Chapter 9 of this historical novel sets forth the history of Korea up to the time this novel takes place. "...the Koreans, steeped in relatively disaster-free surroundings and centuries-old state imposed Confucianism (whose aim was to keep peace under the country's ruler by making the people docile and obedient) became languid and submissive...In the 7th century, Korea, through its three consecutive dynasties paid tribute to China until 1895 when Japan divested China's dignity...Weak with various factions fighting to influence inept and often spoiled kings, Korea had become a hermit kingdom to protect itself from Western powers and fell behind other countries in technology and industry...After Japan was forced to open its ports by American warships, within two decades Japan transformed from a primitive agricultural country to a modern industrial nation...In 1895 the Japanese won the war over control of Korea from China...In 1904 Japan won its war against Russia and made Korea its protectorate and assumed all diplomatic rights for Korea. In 1905 with President Roosevelt's approval, an agreement was formalized to give Japan de facto control of Korea." The Japanese took the best Korea had to offer and left Korea rather destitute. Eventually the Korean landowners were so poor that most of them favored communism. "The U.S, after an agreement with Russia sliced Korea in half at the 38th parallel. After the defeat of Japan, the U.S. military considered the Koreans to be of the same breed of cats as the Japanese and by August 1945, from its already inflated wartime prices, nearly everyone was starving. The U.S. military followed through with the same rules that the Japanese had caused the Koreans to suffer under." This reviewer suggests that you read the balance of this chapter so that you can understand how the U.S. got bogged down there and still is.
This is the basis of this historical novel, utilizing the actual facts and making it more real by inserting these several characters, Bark Jimin, a sixteen year old boy, his seven year old sister, Misern, an attractive girlfriend Sora, Barn Sinman, and several other family members or friends, who are starving, homeless, beset and pummeled by soldiers or hoods from the North and driven South. The author includes the terrible damage done upon the Korean people by the U.S. military, not deliberately but as occurs in wartime. This is not a happy story, but it is an informative one and the author describes his characters realistically and holds nothing back when describing the horrific suffering and hopelessness of the masses, who are not political as they are shoved back and forth between the North and the South. I could not lay this book down as it filled in many of the empty spaces for me during those times and our veterans of that war did not come home jubilant, but rather bitter and damaged goods in many instances.
The author gave me a free e-book to read for an honest review.Read more ›
Owen Choi's 'Tendrils of Life' not only tugged at my heartstrings as a reader, it strummed and plucked them through a whole range of emotions like a well-played harp. Moving themes of love, filial loyalty, and the kindness of strangers play counterpoint against the horrors of the Korean War and the rapacious greed of men ready to take advantage of a country in turmoil. I could not put it down - I worried for them as if the characters were neighbors and friends of mine who were going through so much personal upheaval, and I could not stop till I knew all that befell them.
Bark Jimin and his sister Misern had an idyllic childhood in the remote island of Ockdo in the South Seas of Korea. Likewise, somewhere near Pyongyang a young girl named Sora was enjoying life at her grandfather's home before her family left to visit the United States. Both Jimin and Sora held memories of their childhood dear to their heart by the time their two families end up as neighbors in Seoul. They had no idea how precious those memories would become - Korea was in the middle of social, economic and political upheavals that would give rise to the Korean War, and soon Jimin and Sora would lose their homes, their families, even each other. Despite heart-wrenching tragedies and ordeals that pushed the limits of their bodies and sanity, a love blossomed between them. But how can tenuous tendrils of a possible life together survive the ravages of war?
'Tendrils of Life' hooked me immediately as a reader because of the emotional rollercoaster the characters went through - Jimin, Sora, and Misern endured so many tragedies I found it easy to commit to them and fret for their welfare. They went through so much - the physical exhaustion of walking everywhere because there was no reliable transport; the gnawing hunger and the filth they endured as they traveled; the dangers of the road both from people and attacking aircraft - that I was on tenterhooks trying to find out if they managed to stay alive. In quiet contrast to the atrocities of war was the slow bloom of love between Jimin and Sora. In Seoul they were neighbors who saw each other but never spoke. When they met once again they met as strangers who started to talk to each other frankly and deeply, and it was those quiet talks that sealed the bond and made them seek each other out each time they were split apart. This quiet theme of love anchored me as a reader and helped me speed through the tumultuous events taking place in the hopes that they would find each other again. And yet this was not solely a romance: the author was just good at using quiet themes to anchor me through the backdrop of turmoil and tragedy. The growing love between Jimin and Sora was a pervading and obvious 'quiet' theme, but there was also the quiet sibling loyalty of Misern, who my heart went out to because in my opinion she was the saddest subplot of the book. Little Misern was relatively helpless for being so young, yet she followed her elder brother doggedly, accepted his decisions despite any difficulties they caused her, and believed all his promises. There were times when Jimin was near death, or nearly insane, and the thought of Misern - worrying about her, remembering a promise he made to her, or just knowing he might let her down - would pull him from the brink and strengthen his resolve. Perhaps it is because I have a younger brother I am close to and have sacrificed for that I sympathized with her plight the most, and even after reading all through to the end and the epilogue, I still shed a tear for her.
This tale was riddled with numerous personal tragedies - War is ugly, sad, and painful - so there was very little levity to be found within this book's pages. The story was uplifting however because Owen Choi struck the right balance to give me as a reader lucid insights in human hopes and dreams that transcended the mind-numbing suffering. There were quiet vignettes of touching kindness from strangers on the road who had very little to give, but cared and helped in whatever way they could - they alleviated the characters' current pains, restored my faith in the better parts of human nature, and helped both of us move on. There was the stoic tone the author used to illustrate how victims crushed under War's heel managed to keep going - no matter how many times one is raped, no matter how many times one is conscripted by thugs and made to march to parts unknown, no matter how many loved ones are killed or die by the wayside, one must still pick oneself up and move on. There would be little strength to waste on drama because there were still loved ones traveling with you who need your care, there was the gnawing hunger in your belly and theirs that needed to be sated, and more was asked of you - the stark tone the author used for narration, devoid of overly flowery description, helped give me that impression and helped me grit my teeth and keep going with the characters. And finally the chapters that were called 'Commentary' also helped - they gave a overview of what was taking place in Korea at the time in order to show the historical and socio-political context of Jimin's and Sora's situation. I found these chapters disconcerting because they pulled me out of the characters' personal tragedies, yet I realized in retrospect that they helped restore my objectivity, gave my emotions rest, then gave me useful information before I delved deeply once more into the intricacies of each characters' journey.
I get the impression that Owen Choi wrote from the heart - he did not belittle his characters' suffering, but he did not sensationalize the drama or pain. I hope more readers discover this moving story and would highly recommend 'Tendrils of Life' to all those who would like a peek at human resilience amidst a difficult time in Korea's history.Read more ›
Owen Choi worked in various fields of computer science, most notably in networking software, and took an early retirement from a technical leadership position at IBM. He now devotes his time to writing.
Tendrils of Life is his first novel.
He is currently working on his second novel, staged in North Korea. Through much research and the testimonies of countless people who have escaped the secretive country, he is aiming to bring what it feels like to live in that totalitarian state to his readers with suspenseful, fast-paced, and emotion-filled scenes.
Please visit owenchoi.com for additional information.
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