Korean-American author Samuel Park grew up listening to his mother’s stories about her life in South Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, when the country teetered on the brink of modernity while remaining steeped in centuries of tradition. He sets his intriguing novel in this tumultuous period, introducing a fascinating character whose life is forever changed by one very important decision.

The year is 1960, and in Daegu, Soo-Ja Choi dreams of becoming South Korea’s first woman diplomat. Though she is accepted into the program, her wealthy and overprotective father refuses to let her go, wanting her to marry and start a family instead. Reluctantly, Soo-Ja agrees to marry Min, a suitor who has been relentlessly pursuing her. But two days before the wedding, a handsome acquaintance named Yul asks her to run away with him instead. Fearing that she will disappoint her family, Soo-Ja rejects his offer, but realizes after just one night in her new husband’s home what a grave mistake she has made. Divorce is unthinkable in the still male-dominated society, especially after Soo-Ja gives birth to a daughter who means everything to her, but not a day passes that she doesn’t think of Yul and wonder what might have been if she had married him instead. 

Traversing the South Korean landscape, from the rural fishing village of Pusan to the bustling capital of Seoul, This Burns My Heart is truly a slice of history, capturing a country very much in transition. But more importantly, it is a love story so simple and universal that, in many ways, it could be set anywhere. With complex, sympathetic characters and vibrant, lyrical prose, Park reminds readers about loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, family and, above all, the enduring power of first love.

Read an interview with Samuel Park about This Burns My Heart.

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