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Black Flower Hardcover – October 30, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Kim stumbled upon a little-known piece of history during a conversation on a trans-Pacific flight. This history was so fascinating, he wanted to base a novel on it. This is that novel. From the broad sweep of history to insightful and convincing individual instances of self-discovery, this book develops on many levels and shines a light on issues of gender, class, religious and racial conflicts, and the ways that disparate cultures clash and sometimes meld... Readers who remember the historical fiction of Thomas B. Costain, Zoe Oldenbourg and Anya Seton will appreciate the extensive research and empathic imagination that went into this novel."

Kirkus

 
"This sprawling epic novel dips heavily into the concurrent Mexican revolution and the treatment of the Mayans. Spare and beautiful, Kim's novel offers a look at the roots of the little-known tribulations of the Korean diaspora in Mexico."
—Publishers Weekly, boxed and starred review
 

"[Black Flower] shines light on how immigrants coped during a terrible historical moment."

Booklist

 

"Kim Young-ha takes a small moment of Korean history, when 1,033 Koreans embarked as contracted laborers in Mexico on April 4, 1905, and transforms this moment into a powerful, sweeping epic that resonates across continents and oceans, bridging East and West . . . Kim seamlessly weaves the history and the social structure of Mexico into the story of the Koreans, a story of exploitation and greed, while he also shows the resiliency and dignity of the Korean characters who adapt to the harsh conditions and cope as best they can . . . The scope and breadth of Kim Young-ha’s talent is evident on every page of this breathtaking novel . . . This novel engages, informs, and in a paraphrase of Kafka, breaks the frozen sea within us."

List Magazine

Book Description

HMH Hardcover, 2012

978-0-547-69113-8 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547691130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547691138
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,072,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This novel relates a little known true story that in 1905 some 1,000 plus Koreans boarded a British ship and sailed from Korea to Mexico ending up not in the new utopia they expected but instead being sold into four years of indentured servitude as field hands. They arrived in the Yucatan and were separated into groups sent to various large haciendas harvesting henequen (which was used to make robe). The journey and destination was both ugly and depressing as they left behind a Korea that had ceased to exist as it had been annexed by Japan. It was my interest in learning more about this history that drew me to choose this book.

The publisher in part is also marketing the book in part as "...an epic story of star-crossed love..." It is true that the book does have two young characters that meet ship board and a small part of the story follows their fate and separation. But this is not in any way a love story. The book is mainly a history lesson. Its multiple characters are interesting but lightly drawn and only provide the reader with a cross section of the 1,000 plus passengers. They are mainly a plot device in service to tell the history rather than their own stories. It is a question of emphasis. In my view the book is written as if it is non-fiction and has no real plot beyond the actual history of events. I did love the epilogue that brings the characters fate up to date but the novel has a lot of weaknesses that distract from a rave on my part. Mine is a guarded recommendation.

The biggest weakness is the writing style or maybe it is with the English translation from Korean. The book in the original Korean did win Korea's Dong-in Prize. The style when translated into English is a very simple journalistic offering of the facts and characters' actions.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was quickly engrossed in this book, and pleasantly surprised how easy it was to read for something that was translated - especially from Korean. I am very interested in and familiar with Korea to include no longer practiced customs and traditions, but there are still a few oddball comments scattered about that I don't understand. This somehow adds to the story rather than detracts, as it is easy for me to picture "old-timey" Koreans starring in this story; having to use the imagination now and then (and maybe even learn something) is not so bad.

It flows smoothly and reads quickly like a good novel. The reader follows various different storylines with overlapping characters and only in retrospect does one notice they've read a few chapters in history along the way: they were done so well as to barely notice.

This is really a great book and the perfect kind of book for me: easy to read and even addictive, and yet you feel like you're doing your brain a bit more justice by adding some culture and knowledge to your reading hour rather than just sitting through another dumb novel. And yet those bonuses do not have the cost of making you think too hard in your down time. It feels like time invested well rather than just spent. I like it enough that I will look further into this author.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I quite enjoyed Kim's previous novel in translation, Your Republic Is Calling You, and eagerly picked this up as soon as I heard the premise. Following the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1905, a number Koreans emigrated to other countries, including more than 1,000 packed on the British steamer, Ilford. Having eagerly signed contracts with the Continental Colonization Company, they were bound for Mexico, where they believed high wages and a better life awaited them. (Several thousand Koreans came to Hawaii around the same time for the same reason.) However, the passage across the Pacific (which the first 1/4 of the book details) was their first hint that their new life might be harder than expected. Packed below decks in conditions only marginally better than a slave ship from a century before, the Koreans underwent many hardships. Once in Mexico, they were transported to the Yucatan and sold into indentured servitude on large henequen plantations or haciendas, to work alongside native Mayans.

Kim attempts to dramatize all this through the eyes of several fictional characters, including a poor teenage boy, a family of the royal clan (including a comely teenage daughter), various ex-soldiers, a thief, a former Catholic priest, a eunuch musician, and even a shaman. The short sections alternate among the characters, as the reader learns what drove them to the desperate decision to leave their homeland, and how their sense of social order is upended in their new circumstances. Although the book more or less makes the two teenagers and their love story its center, it suffers from too many shifts in perspective.
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Format: Hardcover
History and literature have recorded multiple Korean diasporas, but partly due to its relatively small size (about 1,000 Koreans) the Korean diaspora in Mexico is relatively unknown. Kim Young-ha's Black Flower, well-translated by Charles LaShure, is an entertaining, and sometimes appalling look at this little-known event in Korean history. When the book was published in Korea it won the prestigious Dong-in Literary Award.

The book's history is rather cut-and-dried (a kind of horticultural joke, as you will see). In 1905 Koreans first arrived in Yucatan where they were used as labor to harvest henequen, a member of the agave plant which has a circular arrangement of leaves which are covered in sharp teeth and conclude in an equally sharp spine.

The Koreans had been rather spectacularly lied to in recruitment, with one advertisement stating:

"Located near the United States of America, Mexico is a civilized and rich country. It has warm weather, clean water and fertile soil. The world knows it is a place where no diseases exist. In Mexico there are many wealthy people, but few poor people, so it is very difficult to find laborers. Like many Japanese and Chinese who went to Mexico and profited a lot last year, Chosun (Korean) people too will benefit much when go there ...
1. Farmers will have free access to medicine. 1. You will work 9 hours a day and will be paid from a minimum 2 Won 60 Jun up to 6 Won ...
History of Korean Immigrants in Mexico pp.72-74; quote translated by Pyo, Jun Beom Korean Minjok Leadership Academy - International Program. [...]
Kim heard of this story only through the most attenuated thread of international conversation.
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