The Starlet and the Spy

Harper Paperbacks. Sept. 2019. 192p. ISBN 9780062930262. $15.99;.
Translated by Kim, whose work has won multiple awards, Korean screenwriter and novelist Lee’s first publication in English uses Marilyn Monroe’s 1954 USO tour in Korea as a springboard for a lush tale of historical fiction. While Marilyn appears throughout, the story focuses on the fictional character of newly named Alice J. Kim (she was originally Kim Ae-Sun), who acts as Marilyn’s interpreter during the tour. Alice’s past unfolds before readers, who learn of her struggles as an independent woman in love with a married man—ironically, a well-regarded author and translator. Lee’s writing traverses through some episodes of the grittiness of wartime and survival. Using the interaction between two women from vastly different walks of life, she forms connections between them and weaves a story that contains elements of despair, whimsy, and surprise.
VERDICT Unique in its setting, mid-1950s Korea newly split by communism after two devastating wars, this brief novel will be appreciated by readers who enjoy historical context and/or strong female protagonists. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]
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