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Ten Thousand Sorrows Hardcover – May 2, 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ten Thousand Sorrows starts with its young narrator watching her mother's murder; improbably, things go downhill from there. "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood," Frank McCourt famously wrote in Angela's Ashes. But McCourt's hardscrabble youth looks like a walk in the park compared to the experiences of Elizabeth Kim. The child of an illicit union between a Korean mother and an American father, Kim grows up the object of disgust and contempt in rural Korea. As a honhyol, or mixed-race child, she isn't considered a person at all.

Yet her mother refuses to sell her into servitude, and for that show of compassion she pays with her life. In the harrowing scene that opens the book, Kim watches from a hiding place as her mother--the victim of a so-called honor killing--is hanged from a rafter: "All I could see through the bamboo slats were her bare feet, dangling in midair. I watched those milk-white feet twitch, almost with the rhythm of the Hwagwan-mu dance, and then grow still." Left alone in the world, without so much as a name or date of birth, Kim ends up in an orphanage where she spends hours on end locked in a crib that resembles a cage. Things ought to look up when an American couple adopts her. Instead, one form of abuse merely replaces another, as the pastor and his wife tell Kim that her mother "left her to die in a rice paddy" and immediately take away any toy or pet to which she develops an attachment. Later, Kim escapes into a young marriage (arranged, naturally, by her fundamentalist parents), only to find no refuge there either. Surely there is a special place in hell reserved for her husband, the kind of pathological sadist who becomes aroused only by inflicting pain.

By this point, the reader begins to feel like something of a sadist herself. It's a tribute to Kim's skill as a writer that we can't look away from her pain, even when it might feel more comfortable to do so. True, she does leave her husband, make herself a new life with her daughter, begin a journalism career without benefit of training or degree--all of which demonstrates an amazing tenacity and inner strength. Yet the latter half of the book employs the familiar vocabulary of healing without doing much to convince. Reconciled with her experiences, Kim doesn't necessarily seem to have finished processing them. Her book has all the raw urgency of a call to 911: it feels written for the author's very survival. --Chloe Byrne

From Publishers Weekly

In a transcendent account of one woman's refusal to yield to the oppressive dictates of religion and custom in two vastly different cultures, Kim traces her evolution from a traumatized childhood in postwar Korea to her emotional awakening as a young abused wife in America. Currently a journalist based in California, she re-creates her uncle and grandfather's gruesome "honor killing" of her rebellious mother, who returned to her village with the baby of an American GI--a grim event that launched Kim's painful life as a tainted "half-breed" in a society that reveres its ancestry and traditions. Eventually, Kim was left at a Christian orphanage where disinterested American missionaries provided a steady diet of hymns, biblical parables, small bowls of rice and little else. Desperate to be loved despite her forbidden mixed-race heritage, Kim hoped her fortune would change when she was adopted by a white, fundamentalist American couple. However, their pious tyranny was matched only by the harsh, racist abuse Kim endured at school from her classmates, described in simple heartrending prose. Seeking to escape, she married the young deacon at her parents' church, who turned out to be an abusive schizophrenic. Fortunately, Kim avoids melodrama in chronicling her flight with her daughter from her tormentor, instead rendering her arduous climb to emotional and spiritual renewal with unflinching honesty. While this skillful, understated narrative may not quite live up to its publisher's comparison to Angela's Ashes, it is a stirring account of one woman's hard-earned victory over prejudice and tragedy. Agent, Patti Breitman. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385496338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385496339
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #572,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Kim's wrenching and poetic story about the death of her Korean mother and her adoption into a fundamentalist American family is an important part of the whole picture of inter-cultural Asian-American adoption currently emerging in several books. Another book on the topic, which fills in a different part of the picture, is Karin Evans' Lost Daughters of China, which is also beautifully written. I think anyone interested in Ms. Kim's book would be interested in this book as well.
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By A Customer on May 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Kim's book is really a tribute to motherhood. The memory of her mother and her mother's love for her are what sustain her through her childhood and early adulthood. Her own motherhood is what sustains her, rescues her, and saves her life over and over again as she creates her own adulthood. I loved this book. Every word is perfectly chosen. Every scene is deeply etched into my memory. I read it two weeks ago, and still think about this extraordinary woman every day. And I think about her mother, too. And mine. I thank Elizabeth Kim for writing such a beautiful tribute to the unique and magnificent power of motherhood.
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Format: Hardcover
I started this book at 10:30pm thinking I would read a chapter before going to bed, and ended up finishing it at 3:30am. A testiment to the cruelty and inhumanity in the world, but also to the human will to survive, overcome and carve out love in one's life.
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By A Customer on September 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It was obviously a very painful life that Elizabeth Kim endured until
most recently, but it was also very painful for me to read this book;
so painful that I had to skim most of it because it was so
unrelenting. I, too, found that not ONE fact was given: what state
she lived in, what newspapers she wrote (writes?) for; and on and on.
I am wondering if her imagination has gotten the best of her? It
wouldn't be surprising, given the awful things she had to endure after
her mother was killed. But I can't pass judgment on her, and I
certainly do not mean to belittle any pain she has suffered. However,
I did just read... CHANGE ME INTO ZEUS'S DAUGHTER, and what a
different experience that was! As with ANGELA'S ASHES, CHANGE ME
. . . was filled with humor and loving moments within horrible
childhoods. Was there NEVER any laughter in Elizabeth's life? Was NO
ONE ever kind to her who she may want to credit with broadening her
life and her views? I hope the book was therapeutically helpful for
her, and I also hope we will get a journalist to interview her and ask
some of these questions . . . . Good journalism, after all, includes
"who, what, when, where, and why". As a journalist herself,
Ms. Kim knows this.
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Format: Hardcover
I spent the better part of yesterday evening reading the book cover to cover. This story is such a moving drama..all of it true. Kim writes with such eloquence...she is both tender and objective, which is remarkable for a person who has faced so much struggle in her short lifetime. I gave it 4 stars as I felt that the story was a bit disjointed (especially toward the end). Otherwise, I highly recommend it but be prepared with a hankie as the tears will surely flow!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful book! Elizabeth Kim is an exceptional person. She suffers through so many trials in her life and still seems to be a well adjusted person at the end. The last page of this book is stunning in its simplicity and power. I highly recommend this book for adoptive parents. It affords the rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an adopted child and understand how the changes they must endure affect them. I just wanted to find Elizabeth the child, give her a hug and tell her that there are good people in the world and people who could love and appreciate her. In the end she knows that. Just a great book.
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Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Kim is an absolutely superb writer who can bring her own memories to life for the rest of the world. I was moved beyond words through the reading of Ten Thousand Sorrows - her writing made me feel her pain, anguish and shame through life. Her words came alive and I felt every disappointment and blow as if I was that little girl. Her story becomes quite inspiring after all the things she has risen above to succeed in this world. This book was also quite cathartic for me as it made me recall wonderful memories of my own mother, who I still miss painfully with every breathing moment of my life. No matter how one loses a mother, Kim's novel reminds you of things past that you probably would not have otherwise. Not only is this a womderfully sad and poignent story, it also helps one analyze their own relationships. I began the book with tears streaming down my face and I finished with the same results. I have never read a book that has touched me so deeply and I invite everyone to enjoy this wonderful experience. I cannot even begin to describe this fabulous gift that she has given me with her words. Many, many thanks to Elizabeth Kim for sharing her story with the rest of the world.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful, beautifully written book. After hearing an interview with her on National Public Radio, I knew I had to read it. I was appalled that one reviewer suggested that Kim "made some of it up to make her life seem more tragic." To naively or cruelly mock someone's suffering is unthinkable. Kim's Omma would be proud of her. After all that she endured, she was able to triumph in the end, and I believe that this is a clear indication that she is her mother's daughter. This is an encouraging story for all of those who have experienced pain, and are in the process of healing. I highly recommend this book for all parents, especially those considering foreign adoption. In fact, I recommend it to all my friends, and I'm not the type to generally read an "Oprah pick" type book; I prefer sci fi. Anyway, Elizabeth Kim deserves a hand. I wish her and her daughter the very best.
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