Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tendrils of Life: A story of love, loss, and survival in the turmoil of the Korean War” as Want to Read:
Tendrils of Life: A story of love, loss, and survival in the turmoil of the Korean War
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Tendrils of Life: A story of love, loss, and survival in the turmoil of the Korean War

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Acute food shortages and lawlessness plague communist-occupied Seoul at the start of the Korean War in 1950. Jimin, a sixteen-year-old boy, aches to return to the safety of his old home on Ockdo (Jade Island), a remote island he'd left years earlier. But only his father, who is absent from home, knows the way.

His adversary, a man who's been plotting to wipe out Jimin's fam
Paperback, 406 pages
Published July 30th 2012 by Princeton Falcon Press (first published July 26th 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Tendrils of Life, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Tendrils of Life

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  146 ratings  ·  39 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Tendrils of Life: A story of love, loss, and survival in the turmoil of the Korean War
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Korean Epoch

This reviewer was a young married woman to a WWII veteran when the U.S. went to war against Korea, and since all WWII veterans were in the reserves for ten years following WWII, we all held our breath as to whether our men would go into battle again. At least in our part of the country, no veterans were recalled and since having read and heard the news from the U.S. point of view and how American soldiers suffered from the cold, and the cruelty if captured by North Koreans, it was
Viviane Crystal
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To many the Korean War remains a distant memory, except for those American soldiers who fought in the war and passed on their knowledge to their children and grandchildren. Now we have a potent novel that explores what happened to the Korean people before and during this war, how the Japanese, Chinese and North Koreans forced Koreans to turn against Koreans. We read a story of the depths of despair from starvation, filth, disease, rape, murder, but we also have here a story replete with the deep ...more
Billy Usrey
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have often wondered what it must be like for the folks that live in a country where a war is taking place. In "Tendrils of Life" the author (who was a boy living in war-torn Korea) not only gives the reader that perspective but also from the perspective of a young man. The main character is Jimin whose dad has joined the fight and who loses his mother his sole caretaker. In this chaotic setting the reader follows Jimin, with his younger sister Misern in tow, as they attempt to find the town wh ...more
Maria Cuadro
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Owen Choi's 'Tendrils of Life' not only tugged at my heartstrings as a reader, it strummed and plucked them through a whole range of emotions like a well-played harp. Moving themes of love, filial loyalty, and the kindness of strangers play counterpoint against the horrors of the Korean War and the rapacious greed of men ready to take advantage of a country in turmoil. I could not put it down - I worried for them as if the characters were neighbors and friends of mine who were going through so m ...more
Didier Giroir
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I completed reading Tendrils of Life last night, and I should be adding "unfortunately" because I did enjoy the reading so much, not only the story, but the style as well as the rhythm throughout each and every page.

My feelings about the book: I felt just like when I was younger, reading classics, a feeling I miss more and more as time passes by...

I would add that the historical backgrounds about Korea and Korean War were really eye opening; I will certainly try to read and understand more abou
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated the book for the history and commentary which taught me a lot about the Korean War. My reading coincided with a trip to Seoul, so many of the things I learned in the book I was able to see first hand. The downside is it's long and sometimes so detailed. overall it's a beautiful story which will enlighten most people's understanding of the Korean War.
Anne-Rae Vasquez
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: historians,literary fiction,historical fiction,cultural fiction readers
Recommended to Anne-Rae by:
Shelves: recommended
Tendrils of Life, by Owen Choi: A literary gem

Tendrils of Life takes you through the turmoil of war in Korea at the end of World War II and the Pacific War with the surrender of the Empire of Japan. Choi writes a detailed narrative of the plight of the Korean people during the timeframe when their beloved country is torn in two by outside forces. He weaves the historical events through the eyes of his main characters as they struggle to survive the injustices and strife that war brings. Readers
Jim Gallen
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely read novels but the setting of this one caught my attention. A journey of a family through war torn Korea was too close to the historical genre to pass up. I am glad that I did not.

I do not want to give away much about the plot but you are entitled to a general outline. A brother and sister, Jimin and Misern Bark, spend most of the book trying to return to their native island of Ockdo from which they had been driven by a feud with the Barn family. If the origin of the feud sounds famil
Elly Helcl
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wow-just-wow
I don't even know where to begin with this book...

About the book.

This book follows Jimin, a young man in Korea, during the war. He is constantly struggling to do the right thing, to take care of his sister, and to get home.

So much factual history in this book. I actually cried at the end when I read that much of the horror you read in this book actually happened.

My one the wishy-washy ending. However, how could the ending NOT be that way? Even today Korea still isn't at peace.

This historical story set during the Korean war in Seoul and other spots in Korea captivated me. As I read about the devastation the war caused the people, I was appalled and my heart reached out to them. Food shortages, lawlessness, and kidnapping of young men to serve in the army were only a few of the things Koreans suffered. Jimin, a 16-year-old boy, is the main character who is trying to return to Jade Island with his 7-year-old sister after his mother’s death.

The history intertwined in th
Stacy Spoonster
Tendrils of life

When I started reading this book I knew very little about the Korean War beyond the show MASH, so I really liked that Owen Choi added information about what was happening during the war as the storyline progressed. This is a truly remarkable book. the characters are dynamic and very believable. I found myself so immersed in the story that it was as if I was experiencing the heartache and joy along with the characters. I never wanted the story to end because I found myself so inve
Judy Bullard
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a very moving historical fiction. It is about the Korean conflict. I thought it would be interesting because my father served in Korea during that time. Life was very difficult and dangerous for the Korean people. This is a very long read (406 pgs) - but worth reading. We have never been through that kind of difficulty here in America, except for during the Civil War - but even that wasn't what the people of Korea went through. This book reminded me of the book I read recently about Chin ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You never know what hardships war can bring unless you lived thought it. This was an amazing look at the Korean War, from the perspective of those who were most affected by it. I keep hopping for a happy ending although with War there is no happy ending.
Jenny Curtis
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enthralling read!

The story had me crying several times. So much heartbreak, struggle and tragedy. A journey through war torn lands and the battle to just survive. Such a great story that will take you through so much with the various characters
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good book

You people should just read this book yourselves and write your own review on this novel yourself and I really enjoyed reading this book very much so. Shelley MA
Josephine Calabrese
Tendrils of Life by Owen Choi is a well written literary fiction and historical story which touched my heart. The author utilized some facts from history, documentaries, etc. There are illustrations of maps to help you visualize the various areas of the Korean War. I applaud the author. I rate this story five stars but in a sense I'm sorry I read this story because it is such an emotional one. I don't recommend this book to anyone who suffers from depression. Many times I discontinued reading th ...more
Jim Byers
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a tribute to human resilience. It's protagonist is Bark Jimin who spent his childhood on a small island off the southern coast of Korea. His father left the island and Jimin's family was never the same. Jimin,his young sister, Misern, and his mother found it necessary to leave the island and moved to the bustling city of Seoul.

In 1950, the Korean Communist forces launched an attack on Seoul and all territory to the south. If Jimin and his family had only to have had dealt with the
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014reviews
Tendrils of Life is historical fiction set in Korea. Most of the story, though not all of the story, occurs during the early years of the Korean War, 1950-1953. Flashbacks. Tendrils of Life has plenty of flashbacks. These take readers back even further, several decades further in some cases. These flashbacks do place the "main story" into context. I will say that there were times I was confused, but, by the end, I saw how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and I understood, for the most part, ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tendrils of Life is a sort of book that you don’t see much of these days—a sweeping epic that is also an intimate portrait of its characters. Set mainly during the Korean Conflict of the early 1950s, this compelling story of war and its effects on a small number of civilians trying to survive amidst food shortages, bombings, and the mad violence that always comes when the world is falling to pieces, grabs you by the collar and pulls you in from the first page to the last.

Choi doesn’t give us cha
Tom Elder
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Owen Choi. Heart breaking story
Tendrils of Life
Based around the Korean War this is a real life story about food shortages, it starts in 1945 and quickly moves on to 1950.
This is a story of Life, love, loss and survival, when you read this heartbreaking story you should never say you are starving ever again.
The Korean War started in June 1950 and lasted until July 1953 and they estimate that 2.5 million civilians were killed.
This story is about a young boy (jimin) and his younger sister (misern)
Jun 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping to gain insight into what North vs South Korea was all about, and I thought this book was enlightening me - it did for a while, but as the story went on, I felt I didn't have any conclusions. Maybe because the conflict has gone on so long, the Koreans have also lost sight of why there was a conflict in the first place.

I read a little about the author and confirmed that English is not his first language, evident in the writing style. Some of the scenarios were played over and over a
Dawn Gaug
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tendrils of Life is a page-turning literary epic in the style of Steinbeck's East of Eden or Buck's The Good Earth. Choi's characters bring alive the real experience of war -- not a date and fact overview from the history books, or a casualty count from the headlines, but the daily lives of realistic characters as they navigate the horrors and chaos of war.

Choi makes the reader care for Jimin and his family, but also understand the actions and motivations of his adversaries. What appears to be a
Oct 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am torn between 3 and 4 stars as this is a very interesting story filled with heartache, cruelty, and the devastation of war. Knowing very little about the Korean War, I figured there would be plenty for me to learn. The way the author included historical facts between parts was unique. He even made it personal by suggesting that if you didn't wish to read the history, you could skip over it.

Unfortunately, I think Owen Choi's story would have benefited from a good editor. It wasn't the gramma
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an honest, powerful and exceptionally well written book about a time in history that I knew very little about. It follows 8 years in the life of a young boy from 1945 to 1953, which were 8 very bleak years in Korea's history. The author keeps this story real, you see what the characters saw and you feel what they feel. I found the plot to be compelling, and despite having other things to do, once I started reading I had to finish it. The characters and the struggles that they face are ve ...more
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks
You can read the full review here on my blog - Book Review: Tendrils of Life by Owen Choi

This book is a must read if you want to experience the war in Korea and understand it’s people – how they think and feel, what they have experienced and been through. Choi explores ideas, questions beliefs, and brings out the strength of the human spirit in Tendrils of Life.
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-reads
This is a story about what happened to a teenager and those close to him during the Korean War. While this is a novel, it is based on many things that actually happened during the Korean War. It is hard to believe that people suffered so much during the war and survived. This book made me very thankful for the life I am living.
Jonny Bell
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tendrils of Life: A story of love, loss, and survival in the turmoil...

This book was a joy to read. It is very profound in so many ways. If you are interested in a book that was part of a historical event then you will enjoy this. I really liked how the book is divided into many short, but many chapters.

I recommend this story.
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Difficult book to read. Too many names sounded too much the same. Too much coming, going, coming again. It must have been a terrible time for the Koreans and anyone involved in the war and that did come through in this story. But it was too much of a chore to follow through this book.
Siobhan Finnamore
This book is an amazing read. For someone who had little knowledge of the Korean war, it gave me a deep insight, both painful and moving, about life for those caught up in the madness. The author manages to make you feel at some level as if you had experienced it with him.
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Compelling, well written and just plain awesome. On some level, it reminded me of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, probably because of the depth of suffering contained within the story. It may have been fiction, but people really did suffer that way in that war and every other war.
« previous 1 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: How can I update the cover of my book? 11 56 Feb 01, 2013 06:24PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Will of the Valley (Green Valley Book 3)
  • Spirit of the Valley
  • Susanna and the Spy (Susanna and the Spy, #1)
  • A Glimmer of Hope (Brides of Hope Hollow Book 1)
  • London Calling (Susanna and the Spy, #2)
  • Hope Springs Eternal (Brides of Hope Hollow, #2)
  • The Fallen Angel (Gabriel Allon, #12)
  • Her Only Hope (Brides of Hope Hollow Book 3)
  • The English Girl (Gabriel Allon, #13)
  • The Turquoise Mask
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Down In the Valley (Green Valley, #1)
  • A Woman To Blame
  • A Time for Change
  • A Time to Heal
  • Hannah's Hanky (Clover Creek Caravan, #1)
  • Margaret's Music-Box (Clover Creek Caravan, #3)
  • A Question of Betrayal (Elena Standish)
See similar books…
Owen Choi worked in various fields of computer science, most notably in networking software, and took an early retirement from a technical leadership position at IBM. He now devotes his time to writing.

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
25 likes · 21 comments