The Lucky Gourd Shop

The Lucky Gourd Shop

4.2 4
by Joanna Catherine Scott

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When an American mother's three adopted children reach their teens, they grow curious about their Korean heritage. A much-anticipated letter from Korea fails to satisfy them but sparks memories in the eldest. So begins the heartbreaking and inspiring tale of their birth mother's life as their adoptive mother imagines it.

Abandoned as a baby and then again

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When an American mother's three adopted children reach their teens, they grow curious about their Korean heritage. A much-anticipated letter from Korea fails to satisfy them but sparks memories in the eldest. So begins the heartbreaking and inspiring tale of their birth mother's life as their adoptive mother imagines it.

Abandoned as a baby and then again and again, Mi Sook is raised in a Korean coffee shop by its string of owner-mothers. She grows to adulthood fiercely independent and eventually comes to manage the shop. But her marriage to Kun Soo, with whom she has three children, begins a series of events that ultimately wrench her babies from her arms. Deceived by Kun Soo and his well-intentioned mother, and unsupported by a rigidly Confucian culture, Mi Sook emerges as a tragic and heroic figure who embodies the rich complexities of a nation -- and of the heart.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review A smart, sensitive book about independence, identity, and survival.

The Christian Science Monitor Exquisitely written...A brutal tale becomes beautiful and moving through Scott's poetic language and eye for detail...spare, elegant.

San Francisco Chronicle Beautiful...Scott writes simply and lyrically and creates a convincing world in which poverty tries hard to kill love and often but not always succeeds.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After nearly 11 years with their American adoptive parents, Dae Young, 17, and his sisters Li Na, 16, and Tae Hee, 14, decide they want to know more about their ancestry. But information provided by the Korean orphanage from which the siblings were adopted doesn't match their memories. In this atmospherically detailed and deeply felt work, the children's quest serves as a preface to the central tale, which flashes back to South Korea a generation earlier, to recount the life of the children's mother, Mi Sook. Abandoned as a newborn, Mi Sook is found by the wife of the owner of a coffee shop in Seoul, who keeps her in the back room of the shop and leaves her there four years later when the shop is sold. Each time the business changes hands, Mi Sook gets a new "mommy" who may be fond of her but never loves her. The engineering students who frequent the shop teach her to read and write, and Mi Sook, still living in the back room, eventually becomes manager. The young beauty catches the eye of a laborer, Kun Soo, who lies to her about his marital and financial status. Before they marry, he and Mi Sook have a son together, but when he takes her to his dilapidated house in Inch'on, Mi Sook realizes she's been trapped, and she mourns the loss of her independence. When their second child is a daughter, Kun Soo begins to beat Mi Sook. After her husband dies of injuries while drunk, Mi Sook discovers that he had other wives and many other offspring. Mistrustful of a generous offer that would provide for her children, she returns to Seoul, where she gets her old job back. But her children wind up in an orphanage, and when Mi Sook is offered a chance at true love, she is forced to make a practical, heartbreaking decision. Scott's (Indochina's Refugees; Charlie and the Children) empathy for her vulnerable protagonist and her understanding of the cultural issues in Korean society make this an engrossing tale, albeit one marred by an ending that fails to resolve the opening theme. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
When the author's adopted children, three siblings from Korea, reached adolescence, they wanted to search back to their birth roots from the orphanage from which they'd come to her. However, correspondence with that institution brought a quick end to the trail: the women who had delivered the then-preschoolers to the orphanage seemed to have been posing in familial roles, so tracing back from the information given by them was impossible. The teenagers then turned to their adoptive mother with the unusual but inspired request that, working with the few scraps of childish memories she had heard, and with her well-researched knowledge of the culture from which the youth had come, she invent the story of their ancestry. The Lucky Gourd Shop, then, is all fiction, but it stands in lieu of the author's children's true genealogy. Set in postwar South Korea, this imagined history opens with a dramatic story-within-a-story. Mi Sook, who would become the now-American teens' birth mother, was herself found, very shortly after her birth, abandoned in a trash bin. Taken by her savior into that woman's coffee shop, she grows up in the back room of this small business even as it changes hands across the years of her childhood. Eventually, as a beautiful young woman, she catches the eye and heart of a workman from Inch'on who is nearly maddened by his wife's failure to produce an heir for him. He is the father of five daughters and a son who is mentally incompetent. This fictional birth father of the American teens, Kun Soo, is a character for whom reader sympathy is impossible, but credibility is palpable: wife beating, self-loathing, consigned to fate by his own traditionalism. Scottweaves a highly textured tale of social roles and changing norms, individual psychologies, and the influence of Americans on the life of Mi Sook, wholly aside from her own children's eventual habitat. The poverty of Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as its traditional riches of spicy foods and beautifully crafted ornaments, are brought to life vividly. In this reading group edition, a closing essay by the author discusses her family and her research into Korean culture. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press, 296p., $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Francisca Goldsmith; Teen Svcs., Berkeley P.L., Berkeley, CA SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Library Journal
This tale of a ravaged contemporary South Korea quickly shatters the reader's complacency. Scott, author of Pursuing Pauline, a story of women in revolution, has written a riveting, compelling, and disturbing novel. The main characters are three Korean children who first we meet as Americanized teenagers searching for their heritage. We are quickly taken back to Seoul ten years earlier, where the story of Li Na, Dae Young, and Tae Hee unfolds. Remembering that this story takes place in contemporary times is often a difficult task because of the primitive surroundings and starvation fare. Mi Sook, the children's mother, doomed by circumstances to fail, has to abandon the children to an orphanage where they were found by their American family. But there is more to the story, and it soon becomes evident that the children's history will remain a mystery. Scott's descriptive talent is enormous; at times you wish it were not so good. Recommended for all venues.--Patricia Gulian, South Portland, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Scott knows the territory explored in this novel well -- while living in the Philippines, she and her husband adopted three Korean orphans. More important, though, is the fact that Scott can really write -- her sentences are lean and move with authority. The Lucky Gourd Shop is a smart, sensitive book about independence, identity and survival.
New York Times Book Review
Liz Marlantes
[A] rare, exquisitely written novel that offers a glimpse into a completely different world, without asking the reader to do anything but marvel...What is in many ways a brutal tale of poverty and despair becomes beautiful through Scott's poetic language and eye for detail.
The Christian Science Monitor

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Washington Square Press
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5.06(w) x 8.07(h) x 0.75(d)

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The old woman thought about all this, trudging along, and she thought about America. She thought of how Jung Hee had given that strange groan, and it seemed to her that it held a kind of longing. Perhaps Jung Hee had a secret dream of going there. Perhaps she thought she could find a husband in America. Well, maybe so. The old woman had heard that Americans were different from Korean men, that in America wives did what they wanted and did not ask permission from their husbands. She had heard that an American who took a wife with children would take the children too. Such customs! It was hard to think of such a thing.

She looked sidelong at Jung Hee. In the cold air her twisted lip glowed like a shriveled purple plum. Perhaps in America she could find a man who did not care about it, or about her plain face either. He would give her sons and in return she would help him in his business. But now the old woman remembered another thing she had heard about America, how in the cities black men came in masks and shot Korean people in their stores and businesses. And yet, in spite of this, a man even of the lowest caste could gain wealth and have position in his town. A strange place, this America.

But what of all this anyway? What chance was there for someone like Jung Hee to go to such a place? It was an old woman's foolishness to think of such a thing. Miss Lee had said, though, that her grandchildren might go. She said the women in America were very modern. They worked and grew rich and forgot to marry and have children. When they were too old to bear they searched for children to adopt, but there were not enough. Because of this, many children from the Inch'on orphanage were taken there.

The old woman thought about how her grandchildren might live in America. They would have a new father who would drive his own car every day and not fall off a roof and die, and a mother with her own car too, who did not run away and sleep at night in the back room of a coffee shop, neglecting to bring home money to put rice into her children's bowls. They would have a new grandmother too. She would be like the old women from America that she had seen in Inch'on, tourists come with their old husbands and old women friends to eat at the expensive seafood restaurants along the waterfront. She would wear bright clothes and curl her hair and look at her new grandchildren out of pale round eyes and frighten them. But she would love them, surely, and soon they would grow used to her. She would cook for them and they would eat everything and their bellies would grow round. Each day she would send them off to school with books, and each night help them climb up onto high beds shared with no one else. She would speak to them in English and after a while they would forget their mother tongue. They would forget their family. They would not come back to Inch'on.

The old woman shivered. There would be no one now, at the celebration of the harvest moon, to come and tend her grave. But she could not consider this. She had considered it already, and set it aside, while she was making her decision. Beside her, Jung Hee was crying quietly into her hand. The old woman let her cry. It was good for her to do. As for herself, there could be no crying yet. She must give all her attention to making her feet go down the road. When she got home and lay down on her quilt, she would consider everything. Maybe then it would be time to cry.

Soon they reached the place where they must go in different ways. The old woman turned, holding out her hands, and Jung Hee took them, tilting down her head. Then she turned away and the old woman stood watching her until she disappeared around a corner of the road.

All morning the old woman had been firm and calm, and fear had not risen up to drown her as it had five times the day she talked with Jung Hee's mother. But now, standing here alone in the business section of the town, with strangers going in and out of doors, and motorbikes and bicycles and taxis making turmoil, she saw a businessman in a rich dark leather coat come down the street. He was tall and wide across the shoulders, with the strawlike hair of an American. As he passed, he looked down at her with his pale eyes as though she was not there, pushed though a door and vanished. The drowning started again, and the old woman leaned against the plate glass window of the building at her back and breathed inside the top part of her chest. But darkness came behind her eyes and she felt herself slide down.

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