An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that continues to haunt us today
When the communist-backed army from the North invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.
Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.
Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.
Crystal Hana Kim is the author of If You Leave Me, which was a Booklist Editor’s Choice title and named a best book of 2018 by over a dozen publications. A recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and a 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize winner, she teaches at Columbia University and in the Randolph College MFA program. Her work has been published in Elle Magazine, The Paris Review, Glamour Magazine, Guernica, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor at Apogee Journal. Crystal lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches at Columbia University. Find her online at www.crystalhanakim.com.
If You Leave Me takes place in the 1950s during the Korean War. As children, Haemi and Kyunghwan were friends, but when the pair find themselves teens in a refugee camp along with their families and living under dire circumstances, a small spark is ignited as they spend a couple hours each night on the fringes of danger.
Kyungwhan is entrenched in his schooling and has no idea his wealthy cousin, Jisoo, is making plans to marry Haemi. A life with Jisoo would offer financial security, comfort, and proximity to her mother and brother, and for those reasons, Haemi sacrifices her feelings for Kyunghwan in order to protect her family.
The story follows as Haemi becomes a wife and mother, and there comes a time when she reflects on her choosing Jisoo, and the ripple effects of that one choice will impact much more than she ever could have foreseen.
If You Leave Me is a richly drawn novel from multiple viewpoints. The narrators are Haemi and the men who love her, Kyunghwan and Jisoo, and later, we hear from Haemi’s brother, Hyunki, and Solee, Haemi’s daughter. The multiple narratives helped me to learn about each of the characters through the eyes of the others. Complex, well-developed characterization is the star of the show with a vividly depicted backdrop of not just Korea during the war, but over time with modernization and changes within these characters’ lives. I felt fully immersed in Korean culture.
Overall, I found If You Leave me to be an engrossing, tragic, and heartbreaking tale of forbidden love and how one decision can have a lasting imprint for more than a lifetime.
Thank you to William Morrow for the complimentary ARC. All opinions are my own.
“If You Leave Me”, by debut author, Crystal Hana Kim, takes place during the 1950’s and 1960’s in Korea. This is a wonderful, tragic tale.....the language, culture, and descriptions are lyrical and emotionally engrossing. We are taken on a journey —feeling the aches and pains.
Haemi and Kyunghwan were childhood friends. Kyunghwan introduced his cousin, Jisoo, to Haemi, when the war made them go south.
We know early on the reasons why Haemi is conflicted between desire and security. With the country at war, her family poor - living with her mother- and younger brother who is sick - security- purity - and a good reputation ( values her mother instilled in her), are the only values that mattered.
Haemi marries Jisoo. They have children. Kyunghwan is the children’s uncle. He also still loves Haemi.
Life is closely examined- we get viewpoints - narration from: Haemi, - and the two men who love her: Kyunghwan, and Jisoo. — We also get viewpoints from Hyunki, ( Haemi’s brother), and her daughter Solee. The novel is divided into five parts....which works nicely - as Korea is changing - becoming more modern - which has some advantages but also some misfortunes. The characters feel like real people....and their lives are complicated.
The prose is penetrating. Towards the end - I was in tears. BEAUTIFUL STORYTELLING!
Tidbits I enjoyed: The Korean foods and drinks: Makgeolli is a sweet alcoholic beverage. Miyeokguk with cinnamon juice is made with seaweed - usually a soup. Pajeon is a Korean side dish similar to the Chinese scallion pancake. Tteokguk- or sliced rice cake soup is a traditional Korean dish eaten during celebration at the Korean New Year.
Gonggi- pronounced gong - gee is a popular Korean children’s game involving small stones or pebbles.
An excerpt: ....which gave me pause: “ I woke up early the next morning and lay still, collecting the floors coolness inside me before the day heated through with the summer sun. It was my job to make tea in the morning. Daddy drank ginseng and Mommy angelica. Jieun and Mila slept on with open mouths. I imagined dropping seeds down their throats. The kernels settling in their bellies, growing sprouts. Pear blossoms would flow from their lips and crawl up the walls of the room. Then I could puppet them around by their stalks and have THEM prepare the tea”.
Thank you HarperCollins Publishers...and Will Byrnes Release date in stores: August 2018
A tragic saga of love, longing, and inner turmoil. From childhood love to the most difficult wartime decisions, from marriage to motherhood, disillusionment, and imagining what could have been, this story covers a wide array of interpersonal struggles with chilling clarity. Crystal Hana Kim paints a devastating picture of depression, pining, and all the turbulent nuance of mental health with says so much about the cycle of pain and trauma, of love and resentment. A hard hitting debut.
War, family, and love.. Crystal Hana Kim weaves these themes together effortlessly.
If I had to pick one word to describe the meat of this book, I'd pick powerful. It packs a huge punch. This book spoke to me. I heard messages of hope. I heard messages of fear. I also heard messages of desperation. War will do that to a person.
In war-torn Korea, Haemi at sixteen, is experiencing love for the very first time. Although the environment surrounding them is bleak, when Haemi and Kyungwan are together, it's perfect.. if only for a moment. Haemi's heart is filled to the brim with love for Kyungwan. And then Jisoo enters the picture.
Allow me to gush for a moment. I can't sing enough praise for this book. I love family sagas and this was well-crafted and the execution was flawless. In addition, it was the road less traveled, the road less walked upon. What do I mean by that? In the historical fiction genre, WWII is a popular choice to write about, but the Korean war.. not so much. Kim shined a bright light onto the refugee camps of this era, as well. With that being said, I thought it was breathtakingly beautiful that Kim managed to weave a love story amidst all the pain and brutality. As I mentioned previously, yes there was desperation, but there was an immense amount of hope as well.
I the self longing for cloud the earth and man stand dreamily like haze on my eyelids from where the war has scattered -Chon Pong-gon, "Hope"
Thank you to the William Morrow publicity for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review
My early years of motherhood were very difficult. They made me wonder whether I was fit to have kids at all. And sometimes I would start to think about what my life would look like if I lived 50, 100, 200 years ago in a world where women had no choices about their families and childbearing. I could never think about it too much because the thought of what it would be like would overwhelm me. Even now it's a hard thought experiment because those years are still so fresh and raw in my mind. IF YOU LEAVE ME is about a woman who has no real control over her choices when it comes to marriage and children, and I found it deeply affecting.
Haemi and her family start the book uprooted from their home during the Korean war, doing what they can to find food. Haemi is only 16, her father is dead, and her younger brother is ill. It's a harrowing circumstance but she has her own escape sneaking out at night with Kyunghwan. During the day Kyunghwan's cousin Jisoo is courting Haemi. They both love her, and she wants desperately what each of them has to offer. Once Haemi makes her choice, we follow all of these characters through over a decade.
Thankfully Haemi's narrative is not the only one. We get to see the world through several sets of eyes, what everyone else wants Haemi to be, and sometimes we get her own view of how trapped she feels by being a wife and mother with no other real choice. Haemi loves her children, loves her husband, and yet she feels empty and lost in a way she can never get anyone else to fully understand. Even in a drastically different time, Haemi makes the kinds of choices to take care of people around her that women still make today.
If this book's depiction of a changing Korea appeals to you, I'd recommend following it with EVERYTHING BELONGS TO US, set around the time this book ends, which addresses centrally class and political issues that are more periphery to this book while still having the same kind of deep empathy for its characters this novel has.
This wonderful debut novel, If You Leave Me, centers around five characters growing up during and after the Korean war. Haemi is a spirited, willful and independent 16 year old refugee who lives with and feels responsible for her widowed mother and her sickly younger brother, Hyunki. She and her lifelong friend, Kyungwan, are experiencing young love, but he wants to get an education and be a better man before he expresses his feelings. Kyungwan’s older, wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has no immediate family, and he also takes a liking to Haemi. Before he goes off to war he asks her to marry him, with the hope that when he returns he will have family waiting for him. Jisoo can ensure less struggling and provide food and medicine for Haemi and her family. Despite her connection with Kyungwan...full review and author Q & A on https://booknationbyjen.com.
In Crystal Hana Kim's debut novel: If You Leave Me, multiple narrators allow us to bear witness to female lead character: Haemi Lee as a practical life choice at the young age of sixteen impacts her and those around her for years to come. It's not news that women fulfill a wide variety of roles in our one short lifetime. Some are by choice, some are not...and this is the main theme threaded throughout this novel: choice. Set in the 1950's and 1960's in war-torn Korea, Haemi's ability to choose is hindered due to a wide variety of factors, gender roles being on top. Crystal Hana Kim shows how deeply scarring this can be. It seems that war isn't the only thing that leaves lingering trauma. Imagine that.
My favorite (but also the saddest) element of this novel involved Haemi in her role of motherhood. It's not always rainbows and butterflies. In Haemi's case, it can feel like imprisonment. Having gone through postpartum depression myself, this condition feels isolating enough as it is. I couldn't fathom living in a time and place where it doesn't even have a name. But of course women of that time were expected to be grateful, submissive, adoring, and to be anything less was deeply problematic. Haemi is none of these. She is a character full of regret, independence, and longing, and the trickle effect onto the other characters is palpable right to the end. Diverse, personal, and skillfully layered, If You Leave Me is a beautifully written saga that I'm glad I read.
My favorite quote: "We can stitch ourselves back together, Mother said. I believed her."
If you leave me, I’ll be alone. — Crystal Hana Kim, If You Leave Me . . oh my god, my heart is aching so bad! Crystal Hana Kim’s “If You Leave Me” was one helluva emotionally heavy read. The ending totally shattered my heart, oh my! This is an impressive, epic, unforgettable debut novel about love, family, war, gender roles, and heartbreaking choices people make that haunts them for a lifetime set in Korea 1950’s and 1960’s during & aftermath of the devastating Korean cvil war. . I can’t remember the last time I read a novel by a Korean-American author. I thought the author has done a phenomenal job of capturing the ambience, language, and culture of the Korean background, but it could leave some non-Korean readers confused at times. Because the nature of the setting, she’s incorporated few Korean words that were old, and perhaps out-of-style. Although it’s a technique other authors use in novels set in a different country, even for a Korean person, who speaks, reads, and writes the language, I had to double, triple re-read the sentences to fully understand. I’m afraid some sentences will get lost to many readers, but don’t let that deter you from reading this novel, she has carefully chosen words that aren’t necessary important to the story as whole. . This is an ambitious novel in scope, depth, and setting. Told in alternating narratives, story follows Haemi and her family, refugees during the Korean war. Haemi is a free-spirited, smart girl who spends evening with her childhood friend Kwanghwan, both clearly have deep feelings for each other. While kwanghwan is focused on finishing school, his cousin jisoo is determined to fight in the war and marry Haemi before he sets off. Haemi marries jisoo for the family and becomes a wife & mother, but struggles with the decision and it continues to haunt her for many years. And unmarried kwanghwan also continues to struggles with that fact and is unable to forget Haemi. Through the years, kwanghwan tries to allure Haemi to run off together, but Haemi is bound by familial obligations & her effort to keep the family together, and tries to be a good mother & wife. Despite Haemi’s best efforts, she’s continually haunted by demons, and ultimately does the unthinkable at the end. . gripping, absorbing, immersive debut novel about love, family, and gender roles, set against the backdrop & aftermath of the devastating Korean civil war. **WARNING/TRIGGER: This maybe a spoiler, a minor one, but I needed to say something as a Korean-American & about the culture of Korea. It’s not clearly stated, but Haemi struggled with post-partum anxiety, depression, and/or mental illness. For those who may not be aware, mental illness is a relatively new concept in Korea (Eastern Asia, what I’m familiar with), it’s not something you discuss or admit, it’s unforgivingly stigmatized & closed out from the society. Culture have slowly started talking about it recently because of recent highly publicized suicides of superstars in the entertainment industry. I thought I needed to mention because the author has carefully incorporated it into book; especially for a book set in the 50’s/60’s, I thought it was a very smart move. Smart to incorporate an important topic into a book set in Korea that does not discuss mental health, society where pride is highly prized. People literally kill to climb ladders or work to death. . I am so grateful to be living in America. I know we still have a long way to go for our society to be more accepting and for many people it ends in tragedy, but there’s hope & help in America. I had my share of struggles, and I was able to overcome, not always easy, but grateful to be surrounded by loving family & friends. I went bit of a tangent here per usual 🤣, but remember there’s light at the end of tunnel, there truly is. Highly recommend this debut novel by a promising author with a bright future!
[3.4] If You Leave Me is strongest in its portrayal of the effects of the Korean War on three friends forced out of their homes and living in the same village. Haemi is the most fleshed out of the three characters - I wish Kim had kept the focus on her. The longer the novel went on (and it is too long) the more disjointed it felt.
Overall, this was a disappointment. It's going to get a lot of comparisons to Pachinko but I think it's unfair to both books. While both books are set in Korea, Pachinko is a broader family epic that encompasses more events and time. One got a greater sense of the hardships and joys of the time period and of the family itself. This book, doesn't get there. And, part of it is my tastes: I'm not into the love triangle trope and this book revolves around that.
But, the love triangle isn't the only issue for me. I never got the sense as to WHY these characters loved (obsessed) about the object of their affection. Most of it seemed to be based on physical looks and gestures versus the actual person. There was also no real sense of place of events. Nothing to really draw me into the setting itself. Some of the city scenes in Seoul, other then the food, could have been in any city. There were some lovely bits of writing but not enough to overcome the plot.
But, if you enjoy love triangles, you will love this book.
I’m always so fascinated by books where every bad choice also feels like a necessary one. Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me is such a novel. There are no villains (except, perhaps, history itself; the rigid conventions of the time), only victims, who are strong, but not unbreakable; loving, but not saints, or martyrs. Haemi is the kind of headstrong, whip smart woman you ache to see born in the wrong era. Her decision (if it can even be called that) to protect her family by marrying a man she doesn’t love sows seeds of tragedy that feel perversely familiar as they bloom down the line. What is timeless, though, in Kim’s novel is the question of why love is something we both can and cannot live without. If only it were as necessary as air, or as ornamental as diamonds. If only it were as strong a savior as it is a destroyer.
TRIGGER WARNING: This book covers topics of depression, postpartum depression, rape, and suicide. There's also some bloody and war scenes as well.
Spoilers about halfway down this review.
When I first picked up this book I thought it was going to be a love story taking place in South Korea post-Korean War. I thought it was going to be a tough story about love and loss with a romance-style happy ending. Boy, was I wrong and I'm glad I was wrong.
This is not a love story. Yes, there's love between Kyunghwan and Haemi, but it almost feels selfish and an escape than love. It was an escape from a lot of things. It was an escape from traditional gender roles. It was an escape from the war. It was an escape from what was expected of them. The sneaking around and wearing men's clothing. The meetings under the streetlight. All of it was a way to remove themselves from reality with their gazing at the stars and gazing into their eyes.
Haemi is a very modern-thinking woman who loved her family and her friends. She was in love with her childhood best friend, Kyunghwan, but he never tried to properly court her. You can see Haemi as this beautiful dreamer, a modern girl with a smart mouth and a strong head.
But then comes Jisoo, a possible husband who found Haemi attractive and wanted to make her his wife. Despite Haemi's protests, she still went ahead and married him because in Korea at this time period, you marry someone with money. You marry someone who can provide and protect you for the rest of your life.
Once the Korean War ends and Jisoo returns to Haemi, this is when the story takes a turn for the worse. From there, it just continues to get bad until the eventual end.
This book is going on my list of sad books that will break your heart. I found myself cheering for Haemi and Kyunghwan. I'll bet that everyone who reads this will be Team Kyunghwan. Every encounter and moment between this couple felt like a flash of hope in the world. Sadly, it was just a flash in the pan.
I think there's multiple endings based on the choices that were made. There were so many options for Haemi, Kyunghwan, and Jisoo. There could have been a happy ending. Haemi could have left. Jisoo could have left. Someone could have made a choice that could steer the course of their lives in a different direction. But similar to the state of the war at the beginning, everyone ended up in a stalemate driving them down a spiral that only ended in tragedy.
I strongly advise you not read this next part if you're planning on reading this book. LOOK AWAY!
In my opinion, the biggest themes to this novel are depression, postpartum depression, and suicide. I guessed about halfway through what was going to happen at the end. I mean, I put it as a possibility; a worst-case scenario, but I didn't think that would be the reality.
There are signs throughout the novel regarding Haemi's mental health and how her family and loved ones really didn't see what was happening to her. She kept talking about how her body didn't feel like her own. She was obviously going through postpartum depression after her second child and continued to be depressed well after that.
She would confess to Kyunghwan that she wasn't thinking right, but then just shrug it off as some fleeting moment. She couldn't even recognize in herself what she was feeling. It didn't help that she was also living with her abusive alcoholic husband who resented her for not being the woman he thought she would be. She was constantly made to feel unworthy and not good enough.
You basically watch a woman go from this happy and intelligent girl to a shell of a human who absolutely hated her life. Jisoo doesn't see it. He just sees a healthy woman who will bear him sons and take care of him every single day of his life. No amount of love from her family, her children, could break her from the spell of depression. No one was able to see her uniqueness, her inner beauty until it was way too late and even then I'm pretty sure they still didn't care.
Kyunghwan didn't see it either. He was focused on himself. First, it was the need to survive. Then it was the need to be profitable. Haemi was always in the back of her mind, but I think Kyunghwan followed the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.
Hyunki didn't see it. He was about to start his life in the big city and so excited about all the things he would accomplish. Even when his sister tried to make him stay, there was just no way he would.
Her daughters didn't see it. I mean, her daughters were children and they just saw her sadness as anger or frustration.
In 2019 America, everyone is aware of mental health. We're told to check in on ourselves and others. We're advised what to do when someone threatens their own life. However, in Korea, mental health is still extremely stigmatized. Actually mental health doesn't exist in Korea. You're either healthy or you're crazy. You're weak for being depressed and weakness is a sign that you can't do other things well like hold down a decent paying job.
Now let's take that stigma and roll back the clocks to the 1950s. This is post-war Korea, where people are slowly trying to get their lives back together. Identities to their country and to their self are completely destroyed and need to be rediscovered. Korea had just dealt with 50 years of Japanese occupation to then roll into a civil war and now try and figure out next steps. When is there time to think about what's going on? When is there the luxury to choose what happens next?
I honestly feel like Koreans have just rolled with the punches for so long it was ingrained in an entire generation of people to do what was needed of them. There is no room for want. There is no room for yourself. There was only the limited choices given and those choices messed up a lot of people's lives.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This wins for beautiful cover, but the story was disappointing. This is a pretty standard love story/love triangle. I was interested in the post-WWII Korean setting, but nothing much was made of that in the book. To me, that was a missed opportunity.
Thanks to William Morrow Books for an ARC of this book.
This debut novel is a harrowing account of the ravages of the Korean Civil War. Also in focus is the star-crossed love of Haemi Lee and her childhood friend, Kyunghwan. When the Korean civil war forces Haemi, her widowed mother, and sickly brother to flee to a refugee camp, she finds solace in her nightly outings with Kyunghwan.
There’s not too much to be said without giving the entire story away, but If You Leave Me is unforgettable. Truly, this book is an eye-opening, engulfing and heartbreaking exploration of what love means, what war does and what womanhood can feel like. There were times when I wished the book could be shorter, but prepare yourself for an immersive experience of the Korean Civil War. Prepare yourself to feel a bit raw at the end of this story, even as you welcome its meaningfulness.
Thank you so much to William Morrow for providing my free copy of IF YOU LEAVE ME by Crystal Hana Kim - all opinions are my own.
This is a poignant, insightful debut novel set during the time of the Korean War involving a complicated love triangle. We follow sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee who is staying at a refugee camp as she and her family have been forced out of their village due to the calamity of war. Haemi has been sneaking out to spend time with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan, but a spark ignites and it becomes more than friendship. The only issue is simultaneously she’s being pursued by his more affluent cousin, Jisoo. Jisoo wants her hand in marriage; he offers financial security and the chance for her to stay close with her family. She ignores her feelings for Kyunghwan and reluctantly makes a decision to marry for stability rather than desire. The story spans over sixteen years during a time of great change for the Korean people and Haemi reflects on her decision to marry Jisoo.
There are so many things that I love about this gorgeous novel: the backdrop of Korea, the strong character development, the multiple perspectives, and how the author lightly touches on mental illness. The story is told from the perspectives of Haemi, Jisoo, Kyunghwan, Haemi’s brother Hyunki, and her daughter Solee - I love how as readers we get the full picture of the story from these five narratives. These characters feel very honest and authentic, and by the end I was in tears. Kim is a master storyteller with lovely prose and the ability to draw you in on every page. IF YOU LEAVE ME is a story about the decisions we make and how they affect our lives and the people around us. Also, I always love stories where the setting plays a character and this one was painted with vivid imagery as Korea changed over the years. I visualized every moment and felt everything Haemi felt. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.
This is a technically well-written book. And the story is innovative given the time period it covers.
However, I could not shake the impression that it's about three people who continually behave badly. The triangle persists despite the initial set of poor judgment and awful decisions. (Really? It went that well the first time that you'd repeat it?)
My take on these characters, moreso, reflects a certain distance as well as pronounced disdain. I didn't feel like I could relate to them or want to.
(I read an ARC, which was a gift from an angel, months ago. I had delayed reading this a few times.)
I was totally engrossed in the story of Haemi, Kyunghwan, and their families in war torn Korea. I cried so many times with Haemi. This is one of the first (if not THE first) novel I’ve read that touches on postpartum depression, though it doesn’t call it by that name. Haemi talks about being in a haze a year after each child was born. About how she longed for more, how she felt misery creep in and poison her thoughts. It was such a full, aching story.
There was a lot to like about this novel - Kim does a great job creating well-rounded characters with emotional depth and the span of time she covers allows her to fully explore life's twists and turns with her characters. However, I felt like some of the most dramatic action happened off the page with minor characters reporting on it. This element made me feel disconnected from the plot and left me not caring too much about what happened to anyone. There aren't really many redeeming qualities in the characters, which usually doesn't bother me, but in this novel, it just ended up feeling a little more tedious. Also, I think I would have appreciated the story more with just one or two POVs instead of many. Kim is clearly talented, but this isn't one that will stick with me for long.
I can't quite say that I enjoyed this read. It was well written, but I found the subject matter and characters painful. I picked this one up as a challenge that satisfied three criteria, as a debut novel set in South Korea, that has been languishing on my TBR.
Set in the throes and aftermath of the Korean War, three or four young people are struggling for survival. Happiness is not an option, Love is not something one can have. But somehow, there is a certain something between Haemi and Kwangshwon that unlocks and flies free. Its persimmon, and bicycles, flying free, nestled in the crook of each others bodies, inhaling scent. They are the soulmates in the book - the two for whom an entire world exists. For whom the rest of life is an illusion. Other characters include Jisoo, a broken angry man, and Kwangshon's cousin/brother, and Ham's brother Hyunki. And later, Ham's children. The characters are basically unlikeable, and abusive to one another, with the exception of the (out of place) love between the two, which tempers the abusee and sadness of the book. But feels inexplicable - as a knowledge of such love one would think would bring on kindness and an empathy to others, that just doesn't appear to exists. Even the lovers are not necessarily kind to one another. Broken dreams, war, suicide, compromising war injuries - this book has it all. It would have been a tear jerker - except for the fact that the characters weren't quite likable. I did not end feeling satisfied.
Next up: Book #34 - the Summer Wives, by Beatriz Williams.
It took me a while to get into If You Leave Me, and for the first third or so, I was confused about what exactly Crystal Hana Kim was trying to do: was this supposed to be a love story? A war story? It didn't feel like either, and it wasn't until about halfway through that I realized this book for what it was: a story about people hardened by war and poverty, and specifically, a story about women in a world that doesn't want to value their existence. My heart has been breaking since Haemi agreed to marry Jisoo. I'm reminded forcibly of every historical fiction book and TV show I've ever watched featuring women who sacrificed their personal happiness for the sake of their families and futures, and who ended up condemned by everyone around them for the simple crime of being unhappy. Haemi isn't necessarily a likeable character, and neither are any of the other characters in this book. What matters is that they're all complicated and realistic, and all make sense within the context of who they are. Every thread of this story is heartbreaking, and every you're never allowed to forget the tragedy that brought each of these characters to the places where they exist. The war and political context act as a background character in this book, which I really appreciated, because the grimness of the setting never felt overpowering. It was dark enough to give a desolate mood, but also pulled back enough that we were able to look at the characters as people and not just products of their environment. Overall, a really beautiful book about women and war and the complicated intersection of both.
I was completely absorbed by the forbidden love story of Haemi and Kyunghwan, their complicated ties to Kyunghwan’s cousin, Jisoo, and this rich portrait of war-torn Korea. IF YOU LEAVE ME is a novel of epic proportions whose tone shifts agilely over time, following the lives of its characters and the devastating consequences of war. It’s full of longing and hard truths, and now that I've finished it I'm in solid agreement with the buzz surrounding this book, naming Crystal Hana Kim as a talented writer to watch.
Literary novels normally turn me off, if I’m being honest. But this one shies from the romantic flowery language and gets to the heart of the characters, and let me tell you, it is HEARTBREAKING. But so so so sooooo goooood. I couldn’t recommend it higher, it is breathtaking.
“Everyone in our village whispered what they wanted to believe: the war would end and we would return to our real homes soon.” This gorgeous novel opens in a refugee camp in Korea where sixteen-year old Haemí escapes the unfolding anguish of her family’s straw-roofed shelter, and sneaks to meet her childhood friend Kyunghwan. Late at night, they ride bicycles to nearby towns and scout out bars. They pretend to have different lives, to be older, to be lovers — all lies which they use to scam their way into the bars so they can be merry, even if fleetingly. For her and for Kyunghwan life will go on, but they are resolutely stuck on each other. This is a story of love found, love absconded, and the consequence of not following one’s heart.
This is Crystal Hana Kim’s debut novel and she in no way disappointed me. This story is brilliantly written, each chapter guides you through the lives of the three main characters- Haemi, Kyunghwan and Jisoo. The story line is set in the time of the Korean War when they all had to flee to safety in a refugee camp. Haemi and Kyunghwan were childhood friends and their friendship continues to grow as they sneak out and spend time with each other past curfew. Haemi does not hide her affection for Kyunghwan but he does not give in to her, his focus is on school. Kyunghwan’s cousin Jisoo takes notice of Haemi and before he goes off to war he wants to be married and have a family to come home to, Haemi decides to marry Jisoo for a better life for her family and their lives are never the same after that. The story guides us through their lives throughout the years after the war, we follow Haemi and Jisoo and their growing family; Kyunghwan and his inability to settle down and Haemi’s never-ending love and desire to be with her true love Kyunghwan.
This story was beautifully written, having just read Pachinko this felt like it could tie in with that story line. I enjoyed how each chapter was about each character, there was no crazy flashbacks or flash forwards that distracted me. I highly recommend add this book to your reading list, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did..
Honestly, I don't like Haemi anymore. All the men in this book are just evoking all the bah, ugh, what-is-wrong-with-you emotions in me. . Overall, I don't think I "get" this book so I'm kind of really disappointed.
Though I think Haemi has some mental health issue. Otherwise she's just plain mean and manipulative. But from what she's said and what happened, I think she had some sort of personality disorder. Which is sad since nobody understand that.
Overall, I just don't really care. This book was just meh and I'm glad I'm done with it.