Not One to Be Forgotten
Catherine Chung explores lost worlds and the bonds of family in her “poetically crafted” debut novel, Forgotten Country.
by CRYSTAL KIM
It’s surely a minority of writers who get glowing reviews for their first-ever published novel — let alone, one from their literary hero. Add Catherine Chung to that short list.
“It is a rare novel — debut or otherwise — that can sing at once with such tenderness and ferocity, with such intense feeling and exquisite restraint. Forgotten Country is just that book, poetically crafted, shimmering with hard-won emotion and wholly absorbing.” So reads the review by the award-winning Chang-rae Lee, author of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life, and one of the most respected American novelists of our time.
Given that Lee’s last work, The Surrendered, was inspired by his own father’s traumatic experiences during the Korean War, perhaps it’s not surprising he would so deeply appreciate Chung’s novel, which centers on the lives of two Korean American sisters and their immigrant parents, and ties in Korea’s history of occupation and war, as well as explores themes of familial love, obligation, dislocation and trauma. In Forgotten Country, the narrator, Janie, whose family line has been plagued with the loss of a daughter each generation, has grown up always worrying about her younger sister Hannah. Continue Reading »
North Korea Warns It Will Not Tolerate Criticism at Nuclear Forum
New York Times
As global leaders prepared to travel to Seoul for a nuclear security summit meeting, North Korea warned on Wednesday that any criticism of its nuclear weapons program would be considered a “declaration of war.”
“If there is any provocative act such as the issuance of a so-called statement concerning ‘the North’s nuclear issue’ at the Seoul conference, it would constitute an extreme insult,” said the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. “Any provocative act would be considered as a declaration of war against us, and its consequences would serve as great obstacles to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Kim Jong-un’s Barbaric Purge of ‘Unsound’ Military Brass
A bloody purge in North Korea following the sudden death of leader Kim Jong-il late last year saw barbaric methods including mortar rounds used to execute high-ranking military officials, a South Korean government source said Wednesday.
“When Kim Jong-un became North Korean leader following the mourning period for his father in late December, high-ranking military officers started disappearing,” the source said. “From information compiled over the last month, we have concluded that dozens of military officers were purged.” The source added Kim Jong-un ordered loyal officials to “get rid of” anyone caught misbehaving during the mourning period for Kim Jong-il.
But contrary to reports that an assistant chief of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces was put in front of a firing squad for being drunk during the mourning period, he was executed using a mortar round in line with Kim’s orders to leave “no trace of him behind, down to his hair.”
Pyongyang has us right where it wants us, in a sense, which shows again the bankruptcy of a policy designed to bargain for nuclear and missile concessions that the North is never going to provide. The nuclear agreement was never likely to get Pyongyang to halt nuclear or missile research. But it could offer a gateway to a new strategy, one that transfers our main emphasis to using dramatic economic and social changes underway in the North to promote long-term U.S. and allied interests.
Playing Pyongyang’s Games
Wall Street Journal (subscription req’d)
North Korea is testing how much the Obama administration will give to maintain the fiction of diplomatic progress.
Asians are fastest-growing race group in US, Census Bureau says
The Asian population grew faster than any other racial group in the U.S. over the last decade, increasing by sizable margins in nearly every state, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday.
American Doctor Gains Korean Citizenship
Dr. John Linton of Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital in Seoul became a naturalized Korean citizen on Wednesday. Also known by his adopted Korean name In Yo-han, the 53-year-old waved the Korean flag as he was granted citizenship at a ceremony held at the Justice Ministry in Gwacheon, south of Seoul.
“I am now a real Korean! I am really happy. Let’s live happily together!” he said in Korean with a typical southern dialect. Linton, who comes from a prominent family of missionaries, was born in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, and was raised in Korea.
Korean college students plead guilty to defacing El Morro National Monument
Las Cruces Sun-News (New Mexico)
During separate hearings in federal court this afternoon, Dana Choi, 22, and Seung Hoon Oh, 23, entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor information charging them with disturbing an archeological site, the El Morro National Monument, on Oct. 13, 2011.
At the time, Choi and Oh were foreign exchange students from South Korea who were studying at the University of New Mexico on student visas.
Choi and Oh entered their guilty pleas under plea agreements that required them to pay $29,782 to the National Park Service (NPS) to cover the costs of repairing the damage they caused to the monument. Immediately after Choi and Oh entered their guilty pleas, the court sentenced them to no prison time and no fines, and enforced the restitution payment required by the plea agreements. Choi and Oh tendered the $29,782 payment to the NPS during today’s hearings.
According to court filings, on Oct. 13, 2011, NPS employees at the El Morro National Monument discovered two names — “Super Duper Dana” and “Gabriel” — illegally carved into the sandstone cliffs of Inscription Rock, the monument’s most prominent historical feature which includes engravings dating back to 1758. After ascertaining that the monument register for Oct. 13, 2011, included an entry by a visitor who identified herself as Dana Choi from South Korea, a NPS ranger initiated an investigation. Through Facebook, the NPS ranger was able to identify the defendants, who subsequently were arrested.
Surveillance released in Oxford Circle home invasion
ABC News (Philadelphia)
Video of the Korean American couple who was attacked and robbed over the weekend was released by police in the hopes someone will recognize the perps.
The surveillance video is chilling.
‘Idol”s Heejun Han: Steven Tyler Schools The Class Clown
The episode saw American designer Tommy Hilfiger and world-famous producer Diddy advising the contestants in the fashion and music realms, respectively. Most contestants listened and took these considerations into account—even those who respectfully chose to ignore some pointers when hitting the stage, Phil Phillips—but Heejun seemed to take it all with a grain of salt. When it came time to get style pointers from Hilfiger, Han joked around with the fashion legend, saying he wanted to dress like Madonna and Michael Bolton. He’s been a lovable presence on the series, but that level of disrespect was off-putting.
Phillip, Heejun ignore ‘American Idol’ mentors’ advice and rock the show
Today.com via MSN
Heejun Han also lived dangerously by keeping the comedy act going for another week, even if it’s becoming obvious that the “Idol” influences are getting tired of the act. He asked Diddy for advice on dealing with criticism and just wasted Hilfiger’s time with inane comments.
“I don’t know if he’s an actor, a con man … I don’t even know if he’s Asian. He might be black,” Diddy said.
In culturally homogeneous South Korea, tentative steps toward multiculturalism
Public Radio International
South Korea has long been known for its lack of cultural diversity. Even today, the country is more than 99 percent ethnic Koreans. But things are slowly shifting, with more foreigners moving to the country and having ethnically mixed children — which has presented new challenges for the government and the Korean people.
Author Interview: Catherine Chung of Forgotten Country
Catherine Chung has been enchanted by writing ever since she first put a #2 pencil to paper in elementary school. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, she has a unique relationship with English: it’s not the language of her family, but it’s not quite a second language. Add into the mix a degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a MFA in creative writing from Cornell University, and the result is a style of writing akin to a mathematical proof – concentrated, clean and elegant.
Forgotten Country – her debut novel about a Korean-American family’s struggles with relationships, isolation and loss – is a striking display of her storytelling ability, mature voice and refined style. Chung has earned numerous recognitions for her prior writing and is active in several artist’s communities, including serving as an advisory board member of the Paris Press. We spoke to her about her literary journey, next book and the grade-school haiku that started it all.
Where do you think your passion for writing came from?
I think it’s always been my relationship with language. English wasn’t my first language, Korean was. I actually learned how to read and write faster than how to communicate orally in English, and I think there was something in that that felt really freeing. I always loved writing for that reason.
Samsung Develops Low-Cost “Eye Mouse”
Wall Street Journal
A group of engineers at Samsung Electronics have come up with a low-cost eye-controlled computer mouse that they hope will enable a wider number of severely disabled people to use computers.
Guide to pojangmacha: Why Koreans love drinking in tents
Korea’s beloved street stalls are turning into pick-up bars and franchise chains.
Accordionists who gave Internet an A-ha moment challenge preconceptions about North Koreans
AP via Washington Post
The three young men and two women perform with gusto, swaying to the music, tapping their accordions and clapping their hands overhead. Their catchy cover, recorded in December, became a sensation as it challenged the world’s preconceptions about North Koreans.
After taking their arrangement to Norway to perform at an Arctic arts festival, lead player Choe Hyang Hwa and fellow band members gave The Associated Press a peek into their lives at the Kumsong school in Pyongyang.
Mass shooting at spa shocks Ga. Korean community
AP via Boston.com
A man gunned down along with his wife and other family members at an Atlanta area spa he co-owned was a prominent member of Atlanta’s community of roughly 100,000 Korean-Americans, according to friends left confused and concerned about what happened.
And although they have yet to identify the victims, friends of the spa co-owner were mourning the loss of him and others.
“He had great people skills,” said Travis Kim, the president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta. “He had a calm personality, so in various situations, he would give me a lot of ideas. When I was going through some rather difficult situations, he was there to give me advice and I’m grateful.”
North Korea and US talk for first time since Kim Jong-il’s death
Christian Science Monitor
The US and North Korea entered a new round of exploratory talks Thursday in Beijing amid flickering hopes that they would lead at long last to six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
As Glyn Davies, the new US envoy to North Korea, sat down with his highly experienced counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, a basic question was how or whether North Korean policy has changed since the death in December of North Korea’s longtime leader, Kim Jong-il.
Mr. Davies entered the talks saying it was a “positive sign” and “a good thing” that North Korea wanted the talks so soon after the transition from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.
Kogi BBQ Founder Roy Choi to Pen Memoir about L.A. Food
Roy Choi, the co-founder of L.A.’s popular Kogi BBQ trucks has signed to write Spaghetti Junction: Riding Shotgun with an L.A. Chef. The book will be one of the first three titles released on Anthony Bourdain’s new imprint at Ecco Books. Publication is scheduled for 2013.
American Idol’s Heejun Han: 5 Things You Don’t Know About the Top 24 Singer
He first wowed the American Idol judges with Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” in Pittsburgh, and now Korean American contestant Heejun Han will compete for viewer votes as part of Idol’s coveted top 24.
Here, Us Weekly uncovers five fun facts about the 22-year-old breakout star.
1. He’s singing for the kids! Working with children who have special needs, New York City-based Han says his young charges inspired him to audition. “I want to prove to them that if you really, really want something and believe in it, you can be something,” he has said.
Book Talk: A tale of love and loss, sisters and secrets
Korean-American Janie’s family has lost a daughter in each generation, her grandmother says. So when her younger sister Hannah suddenly vanishes, Janie sets out to track her down through a labyrinth of family secrets and difficult history.
“Forgotten Country,” Catherine Chung’s debut novel, weaves Korean folklore and a host of linked and opposing pairs — Korea and the United States, North and South Korea, American-born children and their immigrant parents, two very different sisters — into a spare, haunting tale of loss, yearning and discovery.
Chung spoke with Reuters about writing, how her university mathematics major may have influenced her work, and her book, which goes on sale March 1 and has been praised by the likes of award-winning author Chang-rae Lee.
Another Korea Wave: New Books in U.S.
Wall Street Journal
But Korea is getting quite a bit of attention in the U.S. in a different medium – books.
Three important and substantively different books about the Korean peninsula are landing in American (and European, and some Asian) bookstores at nearly the same time – a trendlet, at least, if not a “wave.”
The book getting the most attention at the moment is “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson, a fiction writer and creative writing teacher at Stanford. It’s on prominent display in many U.S. book stores this month and has puzzled and delighted readers and reviewers with a mix of narrative styles and timeframes as it tells a betrayal tale set in North Korea.
Seoul Food: Treating Your Idol to Lunch Is the True Test of Fandom
Wall Street Journal
Fans of pop stars send their idols all sorts of crazy stuff. In South Korea, the true measure of a fan’s devotion is sending lunch to the stars.
On a recent Saturday here in Seoul, members of A Pink, a seven-member girl group, worked their way through beautifully crafted lunch boxes featuring egg salad with tomatoes, basil and toasted breadcrumbs, rice wrapped in seasoned lettuce, and beef-and-vegetable-skewers, all paid for by a fan.
“We enjoyed it so much and we were so moved by all the efforts that must’ve been put into these lunches,” said Jung Eun-ji, a 17-year-old member of the group, one of the newest on the Korean pop scene. “There were even our pictures decorated on the outside of the lunch boxes.”
Korean Police Flinging Angry Birds at School Violence
Yesterday, Feb. 21, the Korean National Police Agency and Rovio Entertainment announced the use of the Angry Birds franchise as an ambassador in the campaign to prevent school violence in Korea. The police are hoping to take advantage of the familiarity that young students have of the Angry Birds imagery, which will be used at prevention and public relation centers.
The Korean godfather of charcoal-roasted coffee
Meet the man exporting his aromatic beans from Heyri Art Village to all over the world