Forgotten Country

( 17 )

Overview

A Booklist Top 10 First Novels of 2012 pick
A Bookpage Best Books of 2012 pick

“A richly emotional portrait of a family that had me spellbound from page one.”—Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild

The night before Janie’s sister, Hannah, is born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, and Janie is told to keep Hannah...

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Forgotten Country

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Overview

A Booklist Top 10 First Novels of 2012 pick
A Bookpage Best Books of 2012 pick

“A richly emotional portrait of a family that had me spellbound from page one.”—Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild

The night before Janie’s sister, Hannah, is born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, and Janie is told to keep Hannah safe. Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie goes to find her. Thus begins a journey that will force her to confront her family’s painful silence, the truth behind her parents’ sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and her own conflicted feelings toward Hannah.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gorgeous . . . a heartbreaking story about sisters, family, and keeping traditions alive.”
People

“Luminous and surprising . . . [Chung’s] voice is fresh, her material rich, and Forgotten Country is an impressive, memorable debut.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] lovely, elegiac novel . . . both heartbreaking and redemptive.”

The Boston Globe

"Chung indelibly portrays a Korea viciously divided but ever bound to history, myth, and hope."

O, The Oprah Magazine

“The unflinchingly honest examination of grief, anger, familial obligation, and love gives the novel a compelling emotional core.”

The New Yorker

“[Chung] is sensitive to the spontaneous combustibility of sisterly relations… [her] prose is crisp and unfussy.”

The New York Times

Forgotten Country is often wrenching, but Chung's graceful writing — replete as it is with delicately rendered family affections, snippets of Korean folklore and an unerring sense of storytelling — lifts the tragedies into the realm of lovely melancholia. The pain Janie feels with all of her discoveries isn't enviable, but the peace that the hard-swallowed wisdom brings her is touching and true.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A spare, haunting tale of loss, yearning and discovery.”

Reuters

“An inexpressibly beautiful story…Chung does a masterful job of weaving the past with the present, incorporating mythology and memory in ways that both captivate and haunt…If you read one novel this spring, let it be Forgotten Country. I cannot overstate the joy this book brings.”

The Rumpus

“In this beautiful debut novel…Woven with tender reflections, sharp renderings of isolation, and beautiful prose…Chung simultaneously shines light on the violence of Korean history, the chill of American xenophobia, and the impossibility of home in either country.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Moving among emotions, from reserved to exuberant and from easy joy all the way to devastating pain and loss, Chung’s superb debut examines the twin hearts of cruelty and compassion between sisters in particular and family in general…This elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful first novel should earn Chung many fans, especially among those who enjoy Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee.”

Booklist (starred review)

“Chung delves with aching honesty and beauty into large, difficult questions—the strength and limits of family, the definition of home, the boundaries (or lack thereof) between duty and love—within the context of a Korean experience. Chung’s limpid prose matches her emotional intelligence.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beautiful…a masterful exploration of generational tensions within a Korean family on two continents…Chung is a remarkable writer, willing to dig fearlessly under her characters’ surface motivations. Her style is elegant but never clinical, and her judicious use of Korean folktales amplifies the themes of sacrifice, duty and expectation.”

BookPage

Forgotten Country is a remarkable debut novel, one that profoundly explores our connections to family, friends, and homeland.”

Largehearted Boy

“It is a rare novel — debut or otherwise — that can sing at once with such tenderness and ferocity, with such intense feeling and exquisite restraint. Forgotten Country is just that book, poetically crafted, shimmering with hard-won emotion, and wholly absorbing. A superb performance.”

—Chang-rae Lee, author of The Surrednered

“A heartbreaking debut novel that will leave you quietly shattered in its wake. Forgotten Country is an exquisitely rendered account of a Korean immigrant family divided by two sisters, two countries and a curse that spans generations. Catherine Chung has written a haunting meditation on family loyalty and the lingering legacy of war.”

—Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic

“Catherine Chung's wonderful first novel is a moving and deeply personal story of a family caught between two very different countries and very different lives.”

—Alison Lurie, author of Foreign Affairs

“Catherine Chung is a writer whose first novel I've been waiting for, and her debut, Forgotten Country, more than fulfills what I hoped for—-a boldly imagined novel of Korea and America, of a curse between sisters and a family trying to outrun a war that will not let them go. Chillingly beautiful and magnetic, unforgettable.”

—Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh

"A riveting, brutal portrait of two sisters in crisis, Catherine Chung's unforgettable debut is a work of enormous talent and heart. Written with compassion and insight, Forgotten Country examines the unspoken complexities of familial love and forgiveness, loyalty and betrayal, and renders an indelible, haunting image of Korea, past and present."

–Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women

“I was left utterly devastated by the wonder and heartbreak captured in these pages.  Forgotten Country is overflowing with folktales and family secrets, with American and Korean traditions, with haunting prose and mathematical beauty. Here is a book to cherish, and to celebrate. When I finished the last page I made a promise to myself to be more fearless and fierce with my love; it's that kind of book.”

—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals 

Publishers Weekly
In this beautiful debut novel, sisters Janie and Hannah demonstrate very different reactions to their Korean parents and heritage. The dutiful Janie has carried the weight of having to look after the more manipulative but possibly more lovable Hannah since childhood. Woven with tender reflections, sharp renderings of isolation, and beautiful prose, the story traces Janie’s and Hannah’s Midwestern upbringing. Tensions rise when Hannah intentionally disappears while away at college. Janie, haunted by her grandmother’s warning that in their family, a sister from each generation always vanishes, tries to find her, though Hannah makes it clear she doesn’t want to be found. Chung simultaneously shines light on the violence of Korean history, the chill of American xenophobia, and the impossibility of home in either country. “In Korea, couples dress alike to show the world that they’re together. Families, sisters, teams, groups—delight in wearing a uniform.... Here is the lesson: nothing is more important than belonging.” Though both sisters know this to be true, they struggle with how to make peace with one another and their past until an unanticipated trip to Korea allows everyone to see more clearly. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Mar.)
Library Journal
As Janie weeps over her first-ever separation from her mother, who is about to give birth, her grandmother admonishes her with the grave responsibility Janie must bear for her new sibling. "In our family…a sister always dies," her grandmother warns, sharing the horrific tale of her own infant sister's death during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Two decades later, living Stateside, Janie's family is in crisis: sister Hannah has severed family ties, while their father faces terminal cancer. Seeking the latest treatments, her parents return to Korea, charging Janie with bringing Hannah back. The sisters' devastating confrontation sends Janie alone to rejoin her parents and extended family, each scarred by the terrifying legacy of colonial occupation, war, dangerous politics, and a fractured country. VERDICT No argument that the prize-winning Chung writes elegiac, exquisite, multilayered prose, yet her debut ultimately falters between too much (self-absorption overload, cousin Gabe's death, sleazy adviser) and not enough (Hannah's disappearance, her uncle's silence). For greater satisfaction, readers might try Sonya Chung's Long for This World or Chang-rae Lee's The Surrendered.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman struggles to understand her sometimes-competing roles as daughter, sister, scholar and Korean American in Chung's darkly luminous debut.

Twenty years ago Janie and Hannah moved with their parents to Michigan to avoid reprisals by South Korea's then-authoritarian government against their brilliant mathematician father's incendiary political pamphlet. Janie, now a graduate student in mathematics in Chicago, has always grudgingly accepted the way her family considers it her responsibility as older sister to protect more openly rebellious Hannah. When Hannah drops out of college and takes off for California, cutting off communication with her traditionally tight knit family, Janie is furious. Then her father is diagnosed with a form of cancer best treated, ironically, in Korea. Dispatching Janie to find Hannah and break the news, her parents return to Korea. Janie finds Hannah thriving in Los Angeles. During a quarrel, Janie claims their parents are done with Hannah and tells her not to come to Korea. To Janie's surprise, Hannah acquiesces and stays behind. Janie arrives in Korea alone, claiming Hannah couldn't get away. Ensconced with her parents in a lovely Korean home and visited by devoted (if sometimes rancorous) family and friends, Janie develops a deeper appreciation for her parents' history, particularly her father's. His health seems to improve, and she luxuriates in his approval and her role as the good daughter. But when his condition suddenly worsens, Janie's mother calls Hannah herself. Hannah comes immediately, and, to Janie's chagrin, the family embraces her as if she never deserted it. As their father's health deteriorates, Janie and Hannah's sibling rivalry comes to a head, but their bond is stronger than either has recognized. Despite some missteps into clichés about abuse, Chung delves with aching honesty and beauty into large, difficult questions—the strength and limits of family, the definition of home, the boundaries (or lack thereof) between duty and love—within the context of a Korean experience.

Chung's limpid prose matches her emotional intelligence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594486524
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 412,478
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Chung was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. She studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and received her MFA from Cornell. She is one of Granta’s New Voices, and lives in New York City.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.

Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement.

Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.

ABOUT CATHERINE CHUNG

Catherine Chung was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. She studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and received her MFA from Cornell University. Chung is one of Granta’s New Voices. She lives in Brooklyn. To learn more about Catherine Chung, please visit CatherineChung.com

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How do you interpret the book’s title, Forgotten Country? What has been forgotten and how does that affect the characters and their decisions?
  • How do the folktales and past family histories woven together with the present-day narrative work together to tell a complete story?
  • Secrets and truth are hidden or revealed in varying degrees throughout the novel. What are some of these truths and secrets? What motivates the characters to hide the truth or seek it out?
  • Forgiveness, and the inability to forgive, is a theme that runs through the book. What is forgiven and what isn’t-and why? Do you agree with characters or not in what they choose to forgive?
  • Hannah and Janie argue about Simchung, the protagonist of Janie’s favorite folktale. Hannah says the tale teaches girls to sacrifice themselves. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? What else does the tale, as well as the others in the book, teach and how do you think growing up with folktales affected each of the girls? What stories did you grow up with and how did they help you form your identity?
  • Is there a hero in this story? Who would you say he or she is and why?
  • Have the sisters come to an understanding at the end of the story? How has their relationship changed? How has your own understanding of the family changed?
  • What is each character’s relationship to Korea or America and how do these relationships differ? To what extent does each character belong or not belong to his or her country, culture, or family?
  • Loss and sacrifice are major themes in the novel. How do you think loss and sacrifice bring the family closer together? How do you think they push the family apart?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 17 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

4 Star

(6)

3 Star

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2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    I couldn't put it down.

    This book was riveting and beautifully written. I am so glad I read it :)

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    A magnificent book by a major writing talent. The characters ar

    A magnificent book by a major writing talent. The characters are rich and enveloping and the story is gorgeous.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2012

    I really liked this book. Folk tales, mathematics, and interesti

    I really liked this book. Folk tales, mathematics, and interesting characters all work together to produce a fascinating family story. It is some of the best stuff I’ve read in a long time.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2012

    Overall good

    The book flowed nicely, however many of the characters could have gone deeper. I felt that just as soon as we were discovering the character the story was cut off. It seemed a bit contrived at times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2012

    Good book

    Worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2012

    Amazing

    Amxing writing! Emotional and very well written! You can really hear her voice.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    Forgotten Country, is a novel that holds many stories. It is the

    Forgotten Country, is a novel that holds many stories. It is the story of two sisters who struggle to define themselves in relationship to each other, their family, and the cultures they’ve inherited and have grown up in. It’s the story of a family straddling two countries, languages, cultures, histories—of how they navigate what to hold on to, what to reach for, and what to let go. It is the story of two countries—America and Korea—with their separate and linked histories of violence, separation and reformation. But largest and most ambitious in this novel, is the story of all of us. It is the story of our flawed human selves, our vast human longings, our capacity for love, cruelty, error and redemption. “Each life contains as much meaning as all of history,” Chung writes in Forgotten Country. And as the stories swirl, slamming against and into each other, we’re pulled between the historical and the individual; we engage in the epic human quest of finding a place to belong and to call our own.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    Forgotten Country is stunning and poignant, gripping and beautif

    Forgotten Country is stunning and poignant, gripping and beautiful. Every page is a gem, every chapter a treasure. Catherine Chung brilliantly and delicately holds the reader in the palm of her hand and delivers him or her to a place that looks so much like this one, but is in every way different.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012

    Beautifully written. The spare, poignant prose touched my h

    Beautifully written. The spare, poignant prose touched my heart, The characters are well-drawn and the plot well defined. The author intertwines myth and magic into a very touching family dynamic. .

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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    Sorry, too dull

    Kept waiting for something to happen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

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    Posted October 21, 2013

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    Posted May 1, 2013

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