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Forgotten Country

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  2,092 Ratings  ·  408 Reviews

On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything

Hardcover, 296 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Riverhead Books
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For all that I grew up surrounded by those who can trace their lineage back to the so called East, a geographic hilarity when considering which side of the Pacific the United States finds itself on, I very rarely read their literature. Lahiri, Tsukiyama, Ozeki, a pitiful number when considering the hoops I've gone through to read those from other continents, some of them even translated to boot. Maybe it is a subconscious 'Oh, I've immersed myself in that type already', but when considering the ...more
Jun 20, 2015 Britany rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
Don't you just hate reading a book thinking its about one thing when it's really about something totally different?? Another Reader pet peeve, if you will. The jacket of the book mentions the bond of two sisters, and how the family has a curse-- one sister always gets "lost". The key is the family secret left behind in Korea. The book did include minor pieces of sisterhood and a "family secret" but more than anything else it was about family. A family split apart by cancer. The patriarch of the ...more
May 25, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote this--I hope you like it!
Sep 09, 2011 Seth rated it it was amazing
From the first chapter alone, it was clear that this book was going to be tremendous. I could not wait for it to come out. And, luckily, I didn't have to. I just finished a galley copy, and it is fantastic.
The writing reminded me of aspects of both Shaker furniture and Ishiguro's best works---it was perfectly crafted, dealing with big themes in an understated and unadorned but rich and beautiful manner. And the characters broke my heart in the best way possible.
I found this book extremely well-written, but I never really connected with it except on a very superficial level. Janie, the narrator, was very sympathetic but not very empathetic. She was very... flat. Her emotions and motivations never shone through the story. Hannah, her sister, was this great mysterious void, but once she showed up in the plot again shrank into the background.

Throughout the book, I wanted more. More emotion, more background, more explanation, more exposition. For a first p
Cheryl Strayed
Nov 04, 2011 Cheryl Strayed rated it it was amazing
Forgotten Country is a richly emotional portrait of a family that had me spellbound from page one. Catherine Chung’s beautiful and wise novel will haunt me for years to come.
Jul 23, 2012 Ciara rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2012
the reviews & jacket copy for this book were very misleading. check them out--they say thatjanie's sister hannah mysteriously "goes missing" & in the process of searching for her, janie stumbles across a "family secret" about how every generation of her family "loses a daughter". i was definitely anticipating more of a mystery--about the lost daughters, about hannah's disappearance...about anything.

instead, this is a book about two adult daughters & a wife standing vigil while the pa
Feb 06, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it
Family. The intricacies of family relationships. Our families can define us, our families can destroy us, our families provide us with the roots with which to ground us, and our families love us. But for all the complexities behind family relationships, for all the cruelty and anger we harbor against some of them, there are ties that continue to bind and support us in times of need.

Hannah is missing and her parents expect her older sister, Janie, to find her. Nobody knows where she has gone or
Mar 14, 2012 Allison rated it it was amazing
I received this book from a goodreads giveaway;

I was under the impression that this book was going to be about Janie's search for her younger sister, which it isn't really.
Instead, I was met with a young Korean-American woman, who reminisced about her times as a childhood and other family stories. (I am secretly grateful it wasn't a mystery novel after all.)
Janie's devotion to her heritage and family is tested, however its not really a book about how she came out stronger or better or smarter,
Mar 01, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Oh my GOD. So good. Bleak but beautiful. Wow.
May 30, 2013 Raquel rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, may
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Diane S ☔
Apr 04, 2012 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Another wonderful, heart rendering book by a new author. Starts in Korea, moves to the United States and than ends back in Korea. Much Korean history is related but the book is mainly about two sisters, a father and a mother. Does a great job of highlighting the complexity of a family, positions and roles within families and how easy it is to assume one knows things about a person only to find out years later one is wrong. Love the Korean stories and folk lore told by the girls Korean grandmothe ...more
Jan 29, 2012 Mara rated it it was ok
At the outset, this book seems to be about a fairly ordinary Korean-American family. Although the younger sister has left town without telling her family where she's gone, her actions seem like an understandable act of rebellion (as opposed to the mystery the jacket-blurb would have you believe). In point of fact, she is relatively easily found and returned to the family fold, although the real reasons she left are frustratingly left un-fleshed out.

Soon after we meet this family, however, it see
Mar 26, 2012 Waven rated it it was amazing
This is one of those stories that hangs onto you like the smell of smoke, creeping in and making itself at home whether or not you really want it to. It begins with Jeehyun and Haejin, sisters born in Korea whose family moved to the U.S. when they were young. Now both in college, their names Anglicized to Janie and Hannah, the sisters who were once so close have grown apart until they hardly know each other. One day, without a word, Hannah disappears. Through friends, Janie tracks down Hannah's ...more
Apr 22, 2012 Kerry rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
This is a gorgeously written debut novel with lovely insights into the complicated relationships between sisters, between husbands and wives, between parents and children. Interwoven throughout the family story are beautifully rendered Korean folk tales and fables. I'm not going to use this review to outline the plot or analyze the characters, I'm simply going to quote one of the many passages that dazzled me with its language and imagery and see if you can resist wanting to read this book:

"I s
Rita Chin
Aug 24, 2011 Rita Chin rated it it was amazing
This is the most beautiful book I have ever read. It's one of those rare books that has changed me for having read it and has stayed with me in such profound and unexpected ways. FORGOTTEN COUNTRY tackles themes of love, loss, familial bonds and loyalty, immigration and the ways in which "home" can both hold and betray us, and the human capacity to rise and to heal-- with boundless grace, stunning precision, hauntingly gorgeous imagery, and a quiet ferocity that will break your heart. Luminous, ...more
Sep 27, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This book is breathtaking, heartbreaking. It is charming and smart and pretty, complex and thoughtful, just like its lovely author (admission of slight bias here). I'll write more at some point, but right now I'm just so impressed by the work and sad to know I can't read it for the first time ever again. I'd take this lovely story of a family, with two sisters and their personal and ancestral histories at its large heart, over Egan's Goon Squad any day of the week. I'm smitten with the book.
Catherine Siemann
May 14, 2012 Catherine Siemann rated it it was amazing
This novel is beautifully written. Its exploration of the family dynamic in a Korean immigrant family is sensitive and very real -- nobody is entirely likable, nobody is entirely to blame. People looking for resolution, for clearly drawn lines, will not like the book, but the author does a wonderful job of exploring the complexities of real life.
Apr 22, 2012 christa rated it liked it
Janie takes her role as eldest daughter seriously in “Forgotten Country,” Catherine Chung’s debut novel about a family that comes to the United States, out-running potential political persecution in their home country, Korea.

Hannah, her younger sister, has a bit more moxie. When the family’s traditions start to weigh her down, she runs away to California without leaving a forwarding address. Janie’s resentment toward her grows when their father is diagnosed with cancer and eventually decides to
Jan 17, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it
Having read the blurb and back cover, I expected this book to be about Janie's search for her sister, Hannah, and the unraveling of the curse that causes their family to "lose a sister in every generation since the Japanese occupation" of Korea. However, the book was much more about the family relationships and the father's cancer diagnosis and gradual decline. This is unfortunately the second book I have read this week about which the advance information implied a mystery to solve that was not ...more
Jun 24, 2012 Candice rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ellen
This was a beautifully written book of a family dealing with losses. Janie's parents immigrated from Korea to America when she and her sister Hannah were young children. Now Janie is in graduate school and Hannah is a college sophomore. When Hannah disappears without a word, it seems that the story of each generation losing a daughter is going to come true. Then their father is diagnosed with cancer and decides to return to Korea for treatment. Janie suspends her studies and travels to Korea to ...more
Lauren Alleyne
May 24, 2012 Lauren Alleyne rated it it was amazing
Forgotten Country, is a novel that holds many stories. It is the story of two sisters who struggle to define themselves in relationship to each other, their family, and the cultures they’ve inherited and have grown up in. It’s the story of a family straddling two countries, languages, cultures, histories—of how they navigate what to hold on to, what to reach for, and what to let go. It is the story of two countries—America and Korea—with their separate and linked histories of violence, separatio ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Feb 05, 2012 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
Janie and her family are estranged from everything that matters, estranged from their country of origin, estranged from their new home, estranged from their extended family, estranged from each other.

Catherine Chung takes a look at the pain of estrangement and the desperate ways people try to bridge the gaps left by estrangement in this beautifully written novel, Forgotten Country.

Highly recommended.
Jedi Kitty
Jun 14, 2016 Jedi Kitty rated it did not like it
Yikes, I was hoping for a soulful book about South Korean-American women and family. Instead, I got a bleak, detached and depressing ride through a cruel world where every woman gets hurt and every symbol is of death.

Why is the cover pink and baby-blue with flowers and yarn-like patterns? VERY MISLEADING. Give this book the serious, somber cover it deserves!

Janie and Hannah grew up in Michigan, but their family immigrated to the US from Korea. Janie's college-aged younger sister Hannah has gone
Karen White
Mar 10, 2012 Karen White rated it it was amazing

I received an ARC of this book as a participant in BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between Linus' Blanket and Devourer of Books.

Riverhead books describes Forgotten Country: “Weaving Korean folklore and history within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Catherine Chung delivers a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss and the conflict between loyalty and freedom. Forgotten Country marks the debut of a graceful, astonishing new voice in fiction, one with a quiet ferocity that will
Sara Kovach
Forgotten Country is a very emotionally moving novel full of heartbreak, betrayal, forgiveness, reunion, and death that spans many generations and two countries - America and Korea.

At the heart of this novel are two sisters born in Korea and raised in America by immigrant parents. Younger sister, Hannah, mysteriously leaves, and Janie has the burden and responsibility placed on her by her family to find her and bring her home. The girl's father has become ill, and the urgency to bring Hannah ho
May 05, 2012 Heather rated it liked it
I didn't love this book, but it was interesting to read about a Korean family emigrating to America and eventually returning to Korea. There are some historical and cultural insights, but mostly just the life of a family--their traditions, trials, dreams, sicknesses, love and forgiveness. Family and bringing honor to the family is important in Korean culture and we see honor, betrayal, selfishness, forgiveness and love in this story.

Here are a couple of interesting insights/conversations I like
Webster Library
Sep 19, 2012 Webster Library rated it really liked it
This book was amazing. It really opens your eyes to another culture and how someone moving to the United States from another country can be treated differently. The love of family or being a member of a close group can make you stronger or pull you apart when you are in a difficult situation.

The main character Janie is trying to get her doctorate in math. She was born in Korea and was transplanted to Michigan with her mother father and sister. The books starts out with Janie's sister Hannah disa
Feb 19, 2014 Marcy rated it liked it
Two sisters and their parents lived in Korea, but fled to America in a matter of days when their father had published a brochure to proclaim a Korean Democracy. The tension between the parents was always evident; The mother missed Korea, could not adjust to American ways, and blamed the father for their abrupt departure. Their father was a superior mathematician and would have been revered in his home country had he not become involved in politics.

The older sister was bullied in school because
An engrossing read, Forgotten Country addresses a wide range of complex topics while remaining a family drama first and foremost. Catherine Chung weaves in these larger historical events. It seems that each of the three generations undergo major upheaval and loss whether from Japanese invaders, political factions within Korea, an authoritarian regime or from the North Korea-South Korea conflict. Chung weaves the history of the country in with the history of their family so we slowly learn how th ...more
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NYC Cornellians B...: March Book 4 26 Mar 17, 2013 12:05PM  
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Catherine Chung lives in New York, where she is working on a new novel and a collection of essays. She can often be found eating ice cream, petting other people's dogs, or wandering around with her nose in a book.
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“My mother did not want to go to America: this much I knew. I knew it by the way she became distracted and impatient with my sister, by the way she stopped tucking us into bed at night. I knew it from watching her feet, which began to shuffle after my father announced the move, as though they threw down invisible roots that needed to be pulled out with each step.” 11 likes
“It was just regular growing up, of course, the kind everyone does - but it still hurt him, I know, like the memory I have of the time he dropped me off at the train station when I was going back to Chicago. I could see him through the window of the train, but he couldn't see me through the tinted glass.

I waved, trying to get his attention as he walked up and down the platform trying to figure out where I was sitting. From up in the train, he looked so small. If he'd seen me, he would have smiled and waved, but he didn't know I could see him, and the sadness on his face was exposed to me then. He looked lost. He stood there on the platform a long time, even after my train started pulling away, still trying to catch a glimpse of me waving back.”
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