Still Life With Rice

Still Life With Rice

4.6 9
by Helie Lee, Hetie Lee

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“A captivating memoir of a courageous survivor” (Publishers Weekly) and “a window onto the panorama of modern Korean history” (St. Petersburg Times) this is a radiant and engaging story about a young American woman’s discovery about the life of her Korean grandmother.

Helie Lee’s grandmother, Hongyong Baek, came


“A captivating memoir of a courageous survivor” (Publishers Weekly) and “a window onto the panorama of modern Korean history” (St. Petersburg Times) this is a radiant and engaging story about a young American woman’s discovery about the life of her Korean grandmother.

Helie Lee’s grandmother, Hongyong Baek, came of age in a unified but socially repressive Korea, where she was taught the roles that had been prescribed for her: obedient daughter, demure wife, efficient household manager. Ripped from her home first during the Japanese occupation and again during the bloody civil war that divided her country, Hongyong fought to save her family by drawing from her own talents and values. Over the years she proved her spirit indomitable, providing for her husband children by running a successful restaurant, building a profitable opium business, and eventually becoming adept at the healing art of ch’iryo. When she was forced to leave her country, she moved her family to California, where she reestablished her ch’iryo practice.

Writing in her grandmother’s voice, Helie Lee recreates an individual experience in a unique culture that is both seductively exotic and strangely familiar. With wit and verve, she claims her own Korean identity and illuminates the intricate experiences of Asian-American women in this century.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lee traveled from California to Korea to recapture the life of her grandmother. Hongyong Baek (b. 1912) grew up in northern Korea, the daughter of wealthy parents, and at 22 entered into an arranged marriage and began a life of servitude to her husband. Drawing on interviews with her grandmother and writing in her voice, Lee dramatically describes the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which forced Baek, her husband (with whom she ultimately fell in love) and their children to flee to China in 1939, where they supported themselves by selling opium. After they returned to Korea, the 1950s' civil war caused them extreme hardship. Baek lost her husband to diphtheria and was separated from her son. She supported her other children by practicing the healing art of Chedo. Baek emigrated to the U.S. in 1972. A captivating memoir of a courageous survivor. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
In a bio-fic, Lee makes her debut both recounting and imagining her Korean grandmother's eventful life: childhood and marriage under Japanese occupation, opium smuggling in China, and flight during the Korean war.

Lee opens her first-person biography of her grandmother, Hongyong Baek, with a telling fraction of her own story—an all-American California girl, slightly uncomfortable with her grandmother's Korean outlook, who travels to Korea, Hong Kong, and China to trace her roots. But Lee's mannered naïveté about her family's past seems at least in part a narrative device to stir curiosity about her grandmother's life. Likewise, her simplistically novelized recreation of that life is a strategy to acclimate the reader, albeit at the risk of losing sight of history. Lee successfully grounds such matters as her grandmother's pampered childhood and arranged marriage within the context of Korean culture, vividly illuminating family relationships, power struggles, and the realities of daily life in pre-Communist Korea. But the irritating imagined sections, with stilted dialogue and interior musings—such as Hongyong's marriage ceremony and her wedding night—are extravagantly intimate and unsatisfying. Nor does Lee seem to have full command of the background to the family's exile to China, where Hongyong entrepreneurially took up opium smuggling (and the healing art of Chiryo), nor to her grandmother's persecution under the North Korean Communist regime for converting to Christianity. Lee incorporates little sense of history beyond vague sentiments and a few important dates; the Japanese occupation and the Communist regime dwindle into a hazy background. Only with the Korean war is there a sense of living through history as Hongyong and her four youngest children make the harrowing trek south as refugees.

The human interest of Hongyong's story is compelling, but its treatment will likely strike readers as incomplete.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Helie Lee has published fiction in Mademoiselle. She lives in California.

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Still Life With Rice 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was engaging right from the start. I happened to meet the author's brother while studying abroad in Seoul and decided to see what the book was about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only does Helie Lee craft an emotionally fantastic tale that sheds some light on the Korean American journey in STILL LIFE (look for the sequel!), she is an amazing human being who deserves every success this and future books bring her way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I didn't know how interested I would become in a book that I had such little knowledge of the backround, but I found myself not being able to put it down. The descriptions and emotions are breath-taking, I cried many times!!! I read it in two days and am looking forward to getting the second!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I never really liked reading books, but as a class assignment I thought what the heck. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It keeps you wanting to read more; I never wanted to put it down. Being an Asain myself it keeps you aware to where you are from. The hardships she goes though, just makes you want to understand more. You just want to cry, laugh, or wonder as you read throughout this book. Go buy it! It's a book for any reader, esp. on a rainy day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never laughed and cried so much reading a book. This novel is....phenomenal. I can't describe it enough. You just HAVE to read it! It's not just a (true)story, it really impacts you more than you expect. It's absolutely amazing....beautiful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was OK. Some chapters were full of suspense, while others were a bit boring. The sexual scenes were cool.
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