One thousand chestnut trees: a novel of Korea: A novel of Korea

One thousand chestnut trees: a novel of Korea: A novel of Korea

by Mira Stout, Mita Stout


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573227384
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/15/1999
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 902,293
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Mira Stout was born in New York City and raised in Vermont. She attended Brown University and has contributed to a number of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Spectator, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Vogue, GQ, Elle, Tatler, and The Financial Times. She lives in London, England.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Memorable…will appeal not only to readers interested in Korea, but also to anyone who wants to read about the human condition, its struggle, and ultimately its resilience and triumph.”—The Washington Post
“A sumptuous tale…Every mouthwatering meal, every delicate image serves a purpose in the greater narrative, which chronicles a large swath of Korean history and politics.” —Publishers Weekly
“This marvelous—and very moving—book tells its Korean story stylishly and with great skill.” —William Trevor
“Thoughtful, beguiling, and tinged with romantic regrets.” —Marie Claire
“A welcome revelation…This book has the wisdom to realize that a search for heritage and connection is never emotionally simple, an often blurred by ambiguity…But wiser still is how [One Thousand Chestnut Trees] teaches that the best use of heritage is to understand the ones we love—in ways that exceed mere geography.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“This novel is a history lesson of the best kind, lucid and concerned with emotions as well as facts…. It needs to be read.” —The Spectator (London)
“Stout handles the sweeping scope of her debut novel…with great skill.” —Ms.
“Valuable…The reader truly comes away with a fuller picture not only of what turmoil Koreans have experienced this century but also of what defines Koreanness.” —Chicago Tribune

Reading Group Guide


Uncle Hong-do arrives in Vermont from Korea to see the sister he has never met, a concert violinist long settled in the West. His colorful visit turns his teenage niece's world upside down, disrupting Anna's cozy existence with his eccentric customs, forcing into it a fresh and intriguing tang of Korea. Then, too soon, he returns to Seoul.

Years later, Anna, now an artist in Manhattan, finds herself in a state of Bohemian malaise -- unhappy, aimless, uninspired, and mired in routine. She seeks to fill the void with an expedition to Korea, retracing her mother's journey in an effort "to see my family undie." Her departure stirs up vivid, shocking memories for her mother, of her gilded childhood, and of her noble clan's fall from power. Long ago, her grandfather commanded his own private armies and owned vast estates across the country from north to south. In defiance of centuries of barbarous invasions -- by the Japanese, Manchus, and finally the Communists -- he built a temple high in the mountains and planted one thousand chestnut trees to shield it from view. Generations later, his trees call back his great-granddaughter Anna, who sets out with Uncle Hong-do to find the hidden temple and excavate from history the remains of her family's legacy.

Mira Stout's debut novel has the sweep of a generational saga and the historical weight of grand epic. It is her great achievement to have captured the turbulent and largely unknown century of Korean history with such elegance and assurance, all the while keeping the threads of this family tapestry firmly in hand.


The following questions, discussion topics, and notes are intended to enhance your reading of One Thousand Chestnut Trees and to provide additional material to facilitate your group's discussion.

  1. Uncle Hong-do's visit to Vermont has a lasting effect on Anna. Discuss the differences between Hong-do's personality soon after his arrival in America and years later when he is a businessman in Fort Lee. Did he seem more American as he embraced the American dream of success or did he seem simply more capitalist?

  2. When Anna spends time with Hong-do in Korea, he is again a successful businessman. Are there differences between his personality as a businessman in Korea and as a businessman in America? If so, how does this relate to Anna? If we are all influenced by our cultural surroundings, as well as our cultural heritage, how might we use this knowledge to better our society?

  3. Before Anna visits Korea, she feels little connection to her Korean heritage. In what way does this contribute to problems she has with her mother? Does her exploration of her ancestry help her to better understand her mother? Discuss what Anna's voyage reveals about her mother's character and how you think their relationship could change as a result.

  4. Korea's history is a particularly violent one. Discuss the Confucian attitude of compassion toward Japanese aggressors. Given the repeated atrocities that Japan perpetrated against Korea over the centuries, what do you make of this pacifism? Do you find it frustrating? Or does the national refusal to violate deeply-held beliefs in the face of horrific suffering amount to a kind of victory over their aggressors?

  5. Hong-do believes that America fought against Communism rather than for Korea during the war and that the continued American presence there keeps Korea divided and weak. What do you think? Hong-do is obviously a capitalist as well as a nationalist. If South Koreans are willing to risk having their country usurped by North Korean Communists, should American troops come home? Or is this attitude unfair given the fact that America and the United Nations had to "rescue" them before?

  6. Despite Anna's disappointment at being unable to visit the family estate and the temple, she does experience moments of intense spiritual connection to Korea-a sense of mystical déjà vu. Have you ever visited the land of your ancestors and felt something similar?

  7. Discuss the apparent differences between Korean and American culture. How do the two cultures perceive and value the concepts of family, duty, loyalty, and history?

  8. Consider the plight of Aunt Pusan, who was all but ignored by her family during her depression. Contrast Pusan with other fictional and/or historical characters who have suffered from mental illness. How does her treatment compare with theirs? Do you think Stout uses Pusan to critique 1940s Korean culture?

  9. In many ways, Anna's journey to Korea is also one of self-discovery. Learning about her mother's life helps her understand the difficulties they've had in communicating. Do you think that learning about her extended family's suffering and the history of Korea helps Anna to mature in other ways?

  10. When visiting her grandmother's grave, Anna realizes that "maybe it was possible to face a blank canvas and put something sincere on it." Why do you think she finds the idea of sincerity jarring? How do you think her trip has helped her to understand the source of her artwork?

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