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This Burns My Heart: A Novel Paperback – March 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2011: Tradition, love, and sacrifice--in Samuel Park's novel, This Burns My Heart, these immensely powerful forces propel the struggles of Soo-Ja Choi in post-war South Korea. Soo-Ja starts out as a privileged young women straining against the suffocating traditions of her family and culture, yet it is her own allegiance that drives her to enter into a loveless marriage rather than break tradition and marry the man who knows her heart. Soo-Ja's marriage is a yoke she cannot shake, crushing her with familial servitude and hardship, but, like the culture itself, she perseveres--and true love follows her through the years like a message in a bottle waiting to be washed ashore. A heartrending story with a remarkable heroine who is both maddening and humbling, Park's elegant prose resonates with the quiet force of love in all its guises and a country struggling to be reborn. --Seira Wilson

Amazon Exclusive: Janice Y.K. Lee Interviews Samuel Park

Janice Y.K. Lee is the New York Times best-selling author of The Piano Teacher, which was also a New York Times Editor's Choice, a Richard and Judy Summer Read pick in the UK, and published in 24 languages.

Janice Y.K. Lee: Samuel, it's a pleasure to be e-interviewing you. I only wish we could do it in person. I really enjoyed your book and found much to admire in it.

Samuel Park: Thank you, Janice. It's an honor to be doing this with the author of The Piano Teacher.

JL: Many elements of this book resonated with me; I think it speaks to a Korean experience common to both Koreans and Korean-Americans. This is your mother's story, you have said. Tell us about the process of novelizing it.

SP: I was inspired by a real life event that happened to my mother the day before her wedding: another man asked her to choose him instead of her fiance. My mother, of course, turned him down, but once her own marriage deteriorated, she often wondered, "What if." So the question that intrigued me was, What does it mean to pick X instead of Y? Do you still have the life you were supposed to have, or is it another life altogether? The book is about the consequences of the choices that we make.

JL: Korea as a country experienced incredibly rapid growth and transformation in the 20th century. How did you feel about having to write about such enormous changes in one book? Did you do research to find out what life was like in Korea in the mid-twentieth century?

SP: I did a lot of research. I wanted to capture the excitement and uncertainty of living through a sea change in a country's history. Soo-Ja's personal metamorphosis becomes a microcosm for the events happening around her. What happens to Soo-Ja, in essence, is what happens to South Korea: As Soo-Ja fights to escape poverty and become a successful businesswoman, her country too struggles to move from the devastation of the Korean War to its rise as one of the so-called "Asian tigers." She herself may be unaware of this, but her own experience is very much emblematic of the cataclysmic shifts.

JL: How do you think a non-Korean reader, tabula rasa in terms of Korean customs or family traditions, will react to the book?

SP: So far, the reaction I've got is that readers are intrigued by the cultural details of the book. Like hanbok, the traditional Korean gown that is often mistaken for kimono, but is quite different. Unlike kimono, which allows for little freedom of movement, hanbok is loose at the bottom, and you can practically run in it. This speaks to the paradoxical nature of gender norms in Korea, where mothers hold exalted, glorified positions, but until 1977 could easily lose custody of their children

JL: Family dysfunction is a common theme in novels. Can you talk a little bit about the inimitable Korean brand of family dysfunction? In particular, I'm thinking of the very illogical ways in which family members interact with each other, never telling each other facts that might solve problems, or brewing in martyrdom when everyone would benefit from a little honesty. You know what I mean!

SP: I know what you mean. In the novel, the father sacrifices much of his fortune to help his daughter. It's a very dramatic gesture, but it's also his only means to express love in a culture that isn't verbal or demonstrative of one's feelings. I'm generalizing here, but I think Koreans often use money as a means to express emotions otherwise kept repressed. I was interested, then, in exploring not only the way money corrupts family relations, but also how it creates powerful bonds between people. Koreans often measure the extent of their love by the amount of sacrifice they perform for the other person. It's beautiful and maddening at the same time.

JL: What did your mother think about the book?

SP: She hasn't read the whole book, but she liked the parts she read. At the end of the day, the book is a work of fiction, and my mother has a healthy separation between the character and her. She knows that she inspired Soo-Ja but is not Soo-Ja, if that makes sense.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“An incredible read . . . I don’t want it to end. I love it!” —Hoda Kotb, Today

“Extraordinary . . . A page-turner of a book . . . South Korea provides not only the backdrop of Soo-Ja’s story, but also the context for Park’s novel, which spans the decades after the Korean War to the beginning of the country’s economic boom. In a sense, Soo-Ja’s story parallels South Korea’s development from a poor, struggling state to a gleaming Asian tiger.” Chicago Tribune

“Memorable . . . Atmospheric and exuberantly filmic . . . a simple but visceral romance in a refreshing Korean setting.” The Miami Herald

“Park does a good job of bringing the rapidly changing South Korea of the 1960s alive. As cities sprout from beanfields and rickshaws give way to Kias, the world around Soo-Ja and her family is changing at a frightening speed. . . . I especially recommend this novel to readers who were intrigued (as was I) by Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy, set in postwar China. The contrast is fascinating.” The Christian Science Monitor

This Burns My Heart is quietly stunning—a soft, fierce story that lingers in the mind. Samuel Park is a deft and elegant writer; this is a very exciting debut.” —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

“Vivid…atmospheric . . . Park’s descriptions of antigovernment clashes and the martyrdom of a 12-year-old boy, in particular, provide eerily prescient reverberations of recent clashes in Syria.” Boston Globe

“Writing prose with the beauty of poetry, Samuel Park traces a young woman's journey to hard-won maturity, alongside the meteoric rise of post-war Korea, in a novel which shines with eloquence and wisdom.” —David Henry Hwang, Tony-Award winning author of M. Butterfly

This Burns My Heart is a delicate yet powerful story of love, loss, and endurance. The emotional world of the heroine, Soo-Ja, is beautifully realized; I found myself caught up in her dramas from start to finish.” —Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger and Fingersmith

“An understatedly brilliant tale . . . Through Soo-Ja’s eyes, Park beautifully evokes 1960s war-torn South Korea.” Audrey Magazine

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439199620
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439199626
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Samuel Park is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as a best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews, Amazon, BookPage, and It was also one of the Today Show's "Favorite Things" and a People magazine "Great Read in Fiction." His other work includes the novel "Shakespeare's Sonnets" and the short film of the same name, which he wrote and directed. He is an Associate Professor of English at Columbia College and has published scholarly articles and reviews for Theater Journal, Shakespeare Bulletin, and Black Camera. He lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Lisa on July 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This Burns My Heart is the story of Soo-Ja, a woman in post-war Korea who is having to forgo the life she desires to fit in with the customs and culture of her country. After a hasty marriage, Soo-Ja is soon trapped in a life of virtual servitude to her in-laws. As her life turns out vastly different to what she had imagined when younger, she continues to run into a man who she had quickly fallen in love with right before she got married. In Yul, she sees a life that could have been, full of love and comfort. Soo-Ja must decide whether to pine after that which she wishes she had or make the best of what she does have.

I absolutely loved this book! There was such beauty and grace to Soo-Ja. Never did she wallow in misery, even while wondering how her life would have been different if she had married someone else. She understood that her life was made by her choices. Soo-Ja had wonderful perspective on everything. I also really enjoyed the aspects of Soo-Ja's wants versus tradition. In a culture steeped in tradition, Soo-Ja knew there were certain expectations made of her. Although they did not make her life easy, she did the best she could to satisfy those traditions and make her own life as she saw fit. She was a beautiful example of adapting and making the best of all situations.

The writing was outstanding. Everything flows so well, and you get a real sense of who all the characters are. I was so moved by this book. This is the kind of book that makes you feel so many things, but in the end I was incredibly uplifted. I am recommending this book as highly as I possibly can. It has been my favorite book so far this year, and I am sure it will be on many "best of" lists to come.

Galley provided by publisher for review.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Arlene Greene on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This Burns My Heart is an unforgettable story of a young Korean woman, Soo-Ja. It is a story of passionate love, sometimes painful familial ties, and loyalty to ideals and traditions that suffocate a woman's freedom.
I will never forget the "...three Confucian obediences that must rule a woman's life...Obedience to father, obedience to husband, and obedience to male child." And I wonder what might have happened if Soo-Ja gave birth to a son instead of a daughter.
The scenes between Soo-Ja and Yul were so heartfelt and tender and believable that I could actually feel the denied passion between them. I was both surprised and happy to find that Min actually redeemed himself...he was quite hard to take throughout.
I finished it a few days ago, and it lingers in my mind. Many thanks to Sam Park for writing it--he has a unique talent for getting to the truth of emotions in relationships.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Book Sake VINE VOICE on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This Burns My Heart had me hooked in the first chapter. The story is so beautifully written that you feel like you are experiencing Soo-Ja's emotions, as well as getting a picture in your head of what life must have been like in South Korea at the time. Being a fan of novels like The Joy Luck Club and Memoirs of a Geisha, I can say that this story won me over with the character development of Soo-Ja as she goes through struggles in a culture that is still ruled by men. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys unrequited love, historical fiction, Asian cultures... really anyone that wants to get lost in a great story.

Reviewed by Gabi for Book Sake.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sara Powell on December 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I lived in South Korea for about six months, so this book really appealed to me when it was released. The time period is one I'm not familiar with, as the Korean War and its aftermath was pretty much glossed over in my history classes, but not a lot seems to have changed with respect to traditional gender roles and cultural expectations between that time and the present. I especially had to laugh at the description of the Korean men acting drunker than they really are, as you definitely still see that today.

The main character, Soo-Ja, has an independent streak that she seeks to indulge by marrying a man she feels she can manipulate and spurning a man who offers his hand to her right before her marriage. Somehow she forgets that in Korean culture, you're not just marrying the man, but also his family. This oversight seemed a little strange to me, especially for a character that has grown up within that culture, but I went with it. Needless to say, Soo-Ja soon finds that she has absolutely no control over her life, as all of the control rests with her conniving in-laws, and things just proceed to get worse and worse as time passes.

While all of the incidents and circumstances portrayed have a ring of truth, it doesn't make for pleasant reading. The story completely depresses, and I got to the point that I wanted the main character to commit suicide, her life was so awful and hopeless. I also didn't understand the passionate love she had for a man she had barely spoken to before her marriage, but who suddenly becomes this tragic romantic dream man for the rest of her adult life. It seemed a little forced and insincere.
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