The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir

Tin House. Jan. 2020. 203p. ISBN 9781947793385. $22.95. MEMOIR
Koh’s (A Lesser Love) memoir centers on letters written by her mother during the seven years her parents lived in South Korea while Koh attended school in the United States. Part of a collection that Koh found shortly after she moved back to South Korea after her parents retired, the letters show the difficulties of being a mother to children in one country while living in and supporting a husband and relatives in another. The letters also function as a framing device for the stories of three generations of Koh’s family. Chapters move from Koh’s own struggles in California and Japan to those of her grandmothers, who suffered during times of war and uprisings. Throughout the work, Koh examines both the destructive and redemptive power of language.
VERDICT A poignant transgenerational story of trauma and recovery in South Korea, Japan, and America.

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