Authors: Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary, #Adult
Praise for Marie Myung-Ok Lee's
is that rare book, that rare page-turner, the one you cannot put down, the one you will suspend washing the laundry for or cooking breakfast for. It is the novel you will open and read in one urgent breath as you take in the storyteller's compelling tale of lives felt long after the book's end as you turn off the light to sleep.
Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers
In a time when Asian adoptions are more and more commonplace, Marie Myung-Ok Lee's
hits an important and unique chord: the POV of the adopted child, now grown up and searching for her lost roots. Lee manages to be both comic and frank in this story of one girl's journey back to Korea, and her lost mother's own journey toward redemption.
ANN HOOD, author of
The Ornithologist's Guide to Life
Lee's story of one young woman's search for self in Korea will resonate equally with both adult
young adult readersâa remarkable achievement.
In this moving portrayal of an adopted girl's search for her biological mother, Marie Lee gives voice and validation to a segment of the Korean American community that has been overlooked too long and too often.
is a gift for those forgotten, for the thousands of Korean children adopted by white parents, for those who search and yearn for a sense of home and self.
NORA OKJA KELLER,
With a pen dipped in deepest longing and grief, Marie Myung-Ok Lee has written an affecting novel of an adoption.
The Deep End of the Ocean
Sumptuous and emotionally stunning â¦ Once you begin this novel, you won't be able to put it down, infused as it is with our fragile sense of self, the search for natural parents to anchor one's identity, and Lee's elegant, imagistically sinuous prose that continually stabs the heart.
Be prepared to put yourself in the adoptee's frame of mind. It is written from our viewpoint, and it's a keeper.
EUN MI YOUNG
Her colorful characters crackle and pop off the page â¦ A grown-up gem of a novel where joy mingles with sorrow, and heartbreak is laced with hope.
, starred review
Also by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Finding My Voice
To Grace Koom-soon Lee and in memory of Dr. William Chae-sik Lee
whose courage inspires me, every day
“If I bear witness of myself, ye will say my witness is not true.”
How can you claim to know the taste of watermelon
when you have only licked the rind?
The dream unfolds as it always does, light goes to black, then back to color again. The last sensation from the awake-world is my limbs seizing like a jerked marionette as I pass into the deepest stages of sleep.
But this time, the dream is different.
This time, I'm dreaming I'm her.
She is sitting in a slow-moving trainlike vehicle, maybe the Small World ride at Disneyland. Her neck is craning like crazy; she's going to meet someone, but is seized by a sudden anxiousness that she's gotten the time or location wrong.
Another train is going the other way. In it are two girls, who catch her eye and wave.
“I'm Sarah,” says one, in a Barbie-doll voice.
“So am I,” says the other. The two are holding hands, looking like paper-doll cutouts.
She turns to face them. “You can't both be Sarah.”
“Why not?” says the Barbie-doll voice.
“After all, we've got two mothers,” says the other.
“You've only got one mother, ONE,” she says. She decides she will break the chain of their hands and then everything will be logical again.
The trains jerk, beginning to pull them in opposite directions. She jumps off to pursue them. But try as she might, the girls' train pulls away too fast.
First one, then the other laughs, all mouth and teeth.
GET BACK ON THE RIDE, YOU!
I wake with a gasp. When I was little, I once did jump off one of the rides at DisneylandâI wanted to go live with the Pirates of the Caribbean. My friend Ashley beside me had been scared of them, but not me. I knew I'd be happy with those pirates, daggers in teeth, skin stained the same walnut brown I turned in the summer.
It takes me a second to recall the larger contours of my dream. When I remember that
was in it, I moan. Why didn't I think to look in a mirror? In the other dreams, her face is always hidden in shadow.
The tears come, another gasp escapes like steam. This chance to see what she looked like, gone. I stopper my mouth with a pillow, praying Christine won't wake and come running, face earnest and dutiful as a volunteer ï¬reï¬ghter, hands soft, murmuring words of comfort.
You had a bad dream, sweetie?
I can't bear to have her touch me.
Where she is, it's day, not night, she's just woken from her afternoon nap.
Usually she sleeps light as a cat, whiskers alert to catch the slightest change in the air. But this time, her limbs had felt pinned as if by stone or thick ropes. Someone might have even said, “
, excuse me, but I really would like to make a purchaseâahem,” and she wouldn't have been able to move a muscle.
While her body lay helpless, some other part of her had ï¬own like a blown leaf all over the known world. From Korea to America, perhaps even beyond. So far, in fact, that when she wakes, she ï¬nds herself surprised that she is, well, herself.
She is reminded (though she is Christian) of the beautiful Buddhist koan: Am I a person dreaming I'm a butterï¬yâor am I a butterï¬y dreaming I'm a person?
When I was eight, they told me that my mother's death was preordained. She had been murdered.
One Sunday after service, our minister, Reverend Jansen of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, bent down in a cloud of Aqua Velva to explain. We had been learning in Sunday school about Heaven and Hell, and in the middle of class I had fallen into a panic, wondering how I would recognize my Korean mother when I saw her in Heavenâor in Hell, if perhaps she and I both sinned too much.
Not to worry, I was told.
“God called your Korean parents home so that you could become the daughter of your mother and father,” he said, his eyes sliding sidewise, for just a second. His breath smelled vaguely of toast.
“It was all part of His planâyou see how much your mommy and daddy love you? When the time comes, if you're a very good girl, you, your mommy, daddy, and your sister, Amandaâthe whole Thorson familyâwill be in Heaven together, thanks to the Lord's wonderful and mysterious ways.”
“That's why we named you Sarah,” Christine and Ken added. “Because it means âGod's precious treasure.'”
God kills, I thought then. The same God who brought us Christmas and the Easter Bunnyâhe murdered my mother.
Shortly after that Sunday, I brought up my Korean mother again, asking about the car accident, how it had happened, exactlyâwas it like Phil Haag's father, who fell asleep at the wheel? Or like our plumber's teenage son who drove into a semi head-on?
“Sarah,” Christine said patiently, looking up from the chopping board, where she was slicing carrot discs for pot roast. “We really knew nothing about her.
your mommy. Let's not talk about this any more, it makes me sad.” She made little crying motions, pretending to wipe away tears, the same thing she did when I was bad, to show how I had disappointed her.
I had grown up in a house in which
had always been the oddly charged word, never to be mentioned in connection to me, the same way we never said “Uncle Henry” and “alcoholic” in the same sentence. It was almost as if Ken and Christine thought I needed to be protected from it, the way small children need to be protected from boors itching to tell them that Santa Claus is not real. The ban on Korea extended even to the aforementioned Uncle Henry, who was then deprived of his war stories at our Memorial Day weekend cookouts. Although he proudly wore his felt VFW hat with its ï¬urry of pins, including ones from his tour “overseas,” Christine or Ken would quietly slip him some of his favorite Pabst or Schlitz, and in return he'd set up residence in the lawn chair at the far corner of our yard, away from everyone.
Somewhere back in the fuzzy clot of my teens (now, I'm at the worldly-wise age of almost-twenty), the '88 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul. We couldn't buck the Thorson family tradition of watching absolutely everything (that winter we'd raptly watched curling, for God's sakes!). But I was aware that pains were taken to modulate voices, vocal cords twisted to an excruciating, studied casualness until
came out Korea, exactly the same way we'd say “Russia” or “Carl Lewis” or “Flo-Jo.”
Then Bryant Gumbel invaded our living room with his special segment on how
, one of the four “Little Tiger” economic miracle countries, was so enterprising that it had even made an export product out of its babies. Since the Korean War, more than a
hundred thousand children
, Made-in-Korea stamped on their foreheads, had left the country, their adoption fees fattening the government coffers.