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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.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading This Burns My Heart: A Novel. It's the right kind of 'historical fiction' for my taste. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Debbra Richards
One of the best books I have read in years. Perfect from the first chapter. It is elegant and exciting at the same time. I can't wait for the author to write a second novel.Published 6 months ago by Julie Patrick
I loved this book - could not put it down! Would recommend to anyone who is looking for a good book!Published 6 months ago by Denise
I loved the story of this hasty marriage of Soo-Ja in post war Korea. It is beautifully written and gave me insight into many of the rituals involved in such a marriage. Read morePublished 6 months ago by mahjongg maven
This book/story made no sense. I wonder if those good reviews were fake. I'll be much more discriminating in the future.Published 8 months ago by Gayle Owens
The backdrop of Korea was an added bonus. Reading about a different culture and way of life was exciting. Underneath it all aren't we really the same.Published 10 months ago by linda keller
I stayed up half the night reading this book and used half a box of Kleenex because there is a lot of tragedy. But it is beautifully written and you really feel for the heroine. Read morePublished 11 months ago by clee8
Not well written, even for a first novel. Additionally the characters are only superficially touched upon. I will not read another novel by this author.Very amateuristPublished 12 months ago by GIGI PIAF
This was an excellent book and I couldn't put it down. Some of the events that transpired where unbelievable and a bit harsh but that is what keeps you reading. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Rosie M. Stokes