Ten Thousand Sorrows is the autobiography of Elizabeth Kim, a journalist from Southern California who began her life with a harrowing incident witnessing the murder of her mother in Korea. Having disgraced the family by bearing a mixed-race child with an American G.I., Kim's mother was hanged in an "honor-killing" conducted by her grandfather and uncle. As her mother explained to Kim, according to her own Buddhist beliefs, "life was made up of ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows, and all of them were stepping-stones to ultimate peace."Her mother's fate, albeit tragic, was not atypical; Korean society, particularly during the Korean War era, was very unforgiving of interracial relationships, particularly with American G.I.s. Murder in these instances was considered justifiable, or, as in her mother's case, was labeled as a suicide.
Having escaped the filth and neglect of a Korean orphanage, Kim is adopted into a strict fundamentalist family incapable of conveying warmth or compassion. She describes the stigma of not being accepted into either Korean society or her adopted American home. Leaving her American family behind, she falls into an abusive marriage with a "godly man" who forces her to suffer routine beatings and bear indignities such as sleeping in the doghouse with the family pet. Years of rejection cause her to feel unworthy of the love and acceptance she once had with her biological mother (her "Omma"); at this point, Kim's life is full of shame and self-loathing. Despite the dark circumstances of her life, the book is imbued with hope, which is transferred to Kim from her mother and later embodied in Kim's relationship with her own daughter. Carrying this heritage from her Omma, she realizes that the love and acceptance for which she was searching can be found within, the beginning of her stepping stone to peace.
Jeannie Q. Joe, a Korean American attorney, practices corporate law in Austin, Texas.