The Magical Language Of Others Is A Powerful And Aching Love Story In Letters, From Mother To Daughter After Living In America For Over A Decade, Eun Ji Koh S Parents Return To South Korea For Work, Leaving Fifteen Year Old Eun Ji And Her Brother Behind In California Overnight, Eun Ji Finds Herself Abandoned And Adrift In A World Made Strange By Her Mother S Absence Her Mother Writes Letters, In Korean, Over The Years Seeking Forgiveness And Love Letters Eun Ji Cannot Fully Understand Until She Finds Them Years Later Hidden In A BoxAs Eun Ji Translates The Letters, She Looks To History Her Grandmother Jun S Years As A Lovesick Wife In Daejeon, The Horrors Her Grandmother Kumiko Witnessed During The Jeju Island Massacre And To Poetry, As Well As Her Own Lived Experience To Answer Questions Inside All Of Us Where Do The Stories Of Our Mothers And Grandmothers End And Ours Begin How Do We Find Words In Korean, Japanese, English, Or Any Language To Articulate The Profound Ways That Distance Can Shape Love Eun Ji Koh Fearlessly Grapples With Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Legacy, And Intergenerational Trauma, Arriving At Insights That Are Essential Reading For Anyone Who Has Ever Had To Balance Love, Longing, Heartbreak, And JoyThe Magical Language Of Others Weaves A Profound Tale Of Hard Won Selfhood And Our Deep Bonds To Family, Place, And Language, Introducing In Eun Ji Koh A Singular, Incandescent Voice The Magical Language of Others is a story of memories Much of this memoir is translated letters that Eun Ji received from her mother after her parents moved off to South Korea Eun Ji and her brother were left completely alone in California The mother s letters are littered with guilt about the abandonment, yet she never comes back for her daughter who isn t even an adult yet They promised two years and then her father continues to sign renewal contracts for many years Her mother is also always seeking love and forgiveness in her letters, and wishing Eun Ji to take care of herself You see little snippets of her life in school, as a dancer, and a poetbut I was left feeling like I wanted The part I enjoyed the most was learning a little about her grandparents history on both her mother and father s side I don t really know how to rate this book I didn t love it or hate it I just feel indifferent about it However, It was unique and nicely written Book was won in a Goodreads Giveaway All opinions are my own Many thanks to the publisher Tin House for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review This book is amazing, and walks a fine line between prose and poetry, telling the stories of women, abandonment, war, death, family relationships and all from the eyes of different generations in different countries This author has a great future Cons there were times in reading this book where I couldn t tell which person generation we were hearing from, but another reading or two should clarify my misunderstanding. This autobiography is adjacent to a memory box mixed in with Eun Ji s tenderly translated letters from her mother, we see bits and pieces of her life, the mundane and the extraordinary, as she navigates high school and college life a continent away from her parents E.J becomes many things a driven student, a dancer, a poet Koh also delves into the history of both her maternal and paternal grandmothers they too have fascinating stories Heartfelt and sweet, this beautiful memoir will immerse you in its pages. Beautifully written with unflinching honesty This memoir encompasses mothers love and guilt for their child while that child also learns about her family s history E.J s pain is so raw it s sometimes difficult to process It the memoir is really about the women of this family as they survive their respective hardships and reconcile it with love and forgiveness I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own. Thank you tin_house thisisejkoh for this gorgeous, unflinchingly honest memoir The Magical Language of Others details Koh s personal experiences, her family s fascinating history, explores the beauty of language and the power of a love shaped by distance Koh s father receives a substantial job offer in Korea and both parents leave a fifteen year old Koh in the care of her older brother in California Koh is left on her own at a pivotal and complicated age which has a great impact on her Written in Korean, letters from Koh s mother are scattered between chapters in which she expresses her affection and seeks forgiveness At the time, Koh didn t entirely understand the letters but discovered them later and translated them for this memoir It s clear that Koh found her calling in poetry because her writing swept me away and overwhelmed me with emotion This is a must read so look for it on January 7th, 2020 This book is an exceptional read part memoir, part history, part generational saga E.J Koh moves fluidly from memoirist to historian, from historian to biographer with swift and deft strides that feel expansive even as the text itself is spare What connects all of these elements is her journey through language beginning first with her mother s language, Korean, but grounded firmly in American English We journey with her to the language of Japanese, another branch of her ancestry, where we discover that language is than words it is movements, attitude, everything that goes unsaid We discover, not for the first time, but with her, as she understands the language of the body and of men through the language of dance Finally, we come to poetry, the language of letting go, or reckoning There is so much in this text that I can not speak to or fathom, but the way in which we excavate our lives and those of who we love to get at the heart and root of grief, trauma, sorrow, and potently, hope, compassion and love, is a universality that speaks to the many languages we all speak. How can I express myself upon reading this most unusual memoir I experienced a myriad of emotions as I read through the letters that Eun Ji received from her mother who had left her in California at 15 while she and E.J s father returned to Korea Initially I was upset that the mother would abandoned her Although her letters seemed to speak of love I questioned the sincerity of her words As E.J continued her journey to become educated and dedicate herself to poetry, my understanding and feelings changed There is so much emotion shared throughout this memoir from sadness to acceptance and finally to love There is much to gain by reading this personal story and it spurred many questions about life and letting go that stayed with me long after reading was done. The below review originally appeared on Open Letters Review.Nearly every teen girl has probably had their own Home Alone fantasy at least once As one s age ticks upward, so does the restlessness for independence, particularly from one s mother She s embarrassing She s restrictive She seems out to make you unhappy But like Kevin McCallister s startling realization, it s only when that figure is truly absent that a child begins to understand the power of a parent s presence.E.J Koh didn t have much say in the matter when her parents, residents of the United States for a decade, announced they were repatriating to South Korea for a too good to pass up job opportunity Sure, our author could have gone with them, but with a life fairly well established in California by age 14, it wasn t exactly a consideration that stayed too long in her mind Nor did it seem to be a mandate from her parents, who arranged for her to live with her older brother until she was ready to go off to college.In 2005, her parents had been gone nineteen months when she began receiving handwritten letters from her mother, all in Korean except for a few English words peppered in These letters supplemented other communication Koh had with her mother, but seem to have added something different Translated by the author and collected in her new memoir, The Magical Language of Others, they read like an extended, fussing hand, hoping to hold onto that mother daughter bond across an ocean of distance Though we find out immediately that the author never wrote her mother back, we know the letters held immense meaning Once a week, a letter came I heard her voice, closer than it felt over the phone I read them in my room, sitting at the desk, standing in the doorway, lying on the bed I folded the letter and slipped it into its envelope I placed it on my nightstand I kept her close I read a letter once or twice Moving my lips, I read it again Each time, I hoped to see something new, a word that I had missed When I put it away, a panic returned I took out the same letter and, with no thought to what I had read before, started over There is no dissection of the letters or of the author s feelings about the absence of her mother in those critical years of development into womanhood Indeed, the letters are presented mainly without comment and in between the author s recollections of those years of physical estrangement She is not forthright with her feelings, but the selected memories hint at her emotions an intensive language course in Japan at age seventeen unveils a need for belonging as she bonds with her fellow students a story of her family background leads to a questioning of identity finally, her dive into the world of poetry hints at her lingering resentment and feelings of abandonment.There is a whole shadow self lingering behind the words of this book it only suggests the true pain and longing that the reader can feel in the pit of their stomach There is no doubt that a second book s pages could be filled with all that s left unsaid here The absence of such words gives this book a quiet, melancholic tone Wounds kept hidden in this book do not interrupt its smooth, elegant prose, though it is the literary equivalent of sweeping matters under the rug.The void left by the absence of such a discussion leads to the consideration of what the mother daughter pair may have missed out on during those years As a teenager, a girl may push her mother away, but relies upon her like an anchor, leaving a trail of guide rope as the girl pushes herself further and further outward into the world The learning of herself comes in the distancing, while knowing she can always come home For our author, home could not be her mother because her mother was not at home.Meanwhile, Koh mentions in her introductory passage which doubles as her translator s note that her mother, at times in her letters, dips into the third person perspective, referring to herself as Mommy As the author notices, Mommy addresses a child, who remains one in her letters She suspects that these moments were her mother s act of parenting Perhaps the guilt of leaving behind her children and the loss of the maternal role compelled her mother to put to paper these thoughts and pieces of advice as an attempt to reclaim an identity lost with the move.The harsh reality that the book exposes is that what is gone is truly gone as is true in family connections and in sleep, there is no making up for what was lost The mother daughter clash that the majority of pairs experience, especially in the teenage years, may be brutal, but it hardens the bond between them and cements their love As both the author and her mother recognize, she largely raised herself in those years and though she did so admirably, the feelings of floating adrift remains with her as an adult The loss, like the letters, lingers The Magical Language of Others is a beautiful, sorrowful kind of wandering into the past It is the kind of recollection that has spikes, the ones that, despite the passing years, still tear at us when we pull them out of the proverbial, or even literal, closet. Looking at a person s life, one could not observe a single memory and claim to know One must understand each and every memory to glimpse the meaning of a life E J Koh tells her life story in this memoir using memories No There is really no deep analysis or explanations The reader must come up with their own thoughts as to why things happened, why things were as they were This will probably cause some problems with some readers at times, because her parent s actions when she was a teenager and young adult will seem mystifying.When Ms Koh was 15, her parents decided her father would accept a higher paying job in South Korea, with lots of perks, including paying the tuition of their children s undergraduate studies in the United States He was already doing quite well in his job in the United States, but this was a very enticing offer Since they decided the author probably would not adjust well to life in Korea, she ends up moving 93 miles away to Davis, California, to live with her older brother, an unmarried college student There would be letters and calls and visits, but her parents did not move back to the United States until she was in her 20s.As the author s mother even acknowledges, Ms Koh raised herself Admirably One can see her mother s mixed feelings about that matter in the letters she sent from Korea that are published in the memoir Yet it s hard not to think she is thoroughly enjoying her life in Korea, without her children one reason being that she was back with her siblings and other relatives At times, she sounds like an older sister in what she says to the author in her letters, not like a mother Is that what she actually wanted to be An older sister Or a daughter and not a mother Or did she simply believe, due to past family hardships and horrors that her daughter was better off and safer living in the United States, where she was born while she and her husband were better off living in Korea While Ms Koh does not dwell at all in the memoir on her personal problems during the years her parents were away, she does mention eating problems and suicidal thoughts This situation was reminiscent of something Rollo May once pointed out in one of his books, when discussing teenage girls and their mothers He said it was not lack of maternal love that caused the most psychological problems, but lies about love Those who knew for sure their mothers did not love or want them, were better able to reorient themselves and get on with their lives, than those girls who only had suspicions It seems it would indeed be difficult to believe all the loving words and advice in letters from a mother who seemed to be doing nothing to get back to her daughter, nothing to have her daughter be with her It is poetry that helps E J Koh to reorient herself It is poetry that gives her life direction and meaning As she said in one of her first poetry classes, she was doing nothing, absolutely nothing, before she started writing and studying poetry One guesses being in poetry classes and teaching poetry classes may have started giving her a sense of family, too, of being where she belonged It s not that she was estranged from her parents and brother at the end of this memoir, however Not at all At the end, the family is back together in the United States Life goes on with spoken words, like written words, that may or may not be true Note I received a free ARC of this book from Vine. E.J Koh converts language into a mixed media experience In this work she employs primary source material, 49 letters by her mother, written in Korean, sent from Korea to the various places she lives during Koh s coming of age.Koh immerses her readers in the experience of language, how and when translation delivers and falls away from meaning due to limited availability of actual words She shows readers how when words don t exist in one of the three languages she can communicate in how meaning and connection struggle, strive and fare.Using the distance between continents and countries and the time history affords perspective, Koh rawly reveals the chosen departure of parents from children to return to their homeland leaving the children to care for themselves Motherhood and love exist on paper, in memory fragments, some phone calls and brief widely spaced visits The lineage of mothers and daughters casts a long line of strength, wisdom, creativity, and perseverance, as Koh wanders in and out of the stories of matriarchy within her mother s family branch Woven into this are significant political and historic details that the intersecting countries and generations past of Korea and Japan might rather left unsaid These details include war, occupation, genocide, loss, love, survival and have become either family secret or repressed memories today Motherhood and the vision for daughters both inter cultural and intersectional are explored and with deft specifics Koh shows readers expectations both yesterday, today and tomorrow Ironically parental failures or deficits no matter how fostered continue to be the encouraged accomplishments of the next gen offspring Unless one is Eun Jin and one endures the world travel, education, depression, individuation and mentor luck Eun Jin E.J Koh maintains.One girl some say, was abandoned while others say separated from develops from teenager to young woman Though challenging she leads a remarkable life She visits and moves to Korea, Japan and Washington She dances, studies the sciences, translation and poetry She is raised by herself, her mother s brief communications and visits and her brother only a few years her senior She does this as an immigrant and the success she makes for herself if both beautiful and artistically stunning She models forgiveness and independence and does so by sharing this most personal story that is quietly touching, gorgeously immersive and mature beyond the years of most people I know I cannot even imagine what E.J Koh will do with the tools of fiction but I do look forward to seeing.Many thanks to Tin House for picking my name to receive this free galley via Galley Club in exchange for an honest review.
- 203 pages
- The Magical Language of Others
- E. J. Koh
- 20 April 2017 E. J. Koh