The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir

February 14, 2020 - Comment

A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language―of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice. The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old

A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language―of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice.

The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love―letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.

As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history―her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre―and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words―in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language―to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.

The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing―in Eun Ji Koh―a singular, incandescent voice.

Comments

Anonymous says:

A Magnanimous Memoir Magnanimity. It has been several years since a book compelled me to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning finishing it, and yet E.J. Koh’s extraordinary, magnanimous memoir, The Magical Language of Others, did just that. Eun Ji’s recounting of her relationship with her mother and family over the last 20 or so years exhibits power and grace in poetic (not surprising, given her experience and success as a poet) prose.I particularly enjoyed the description of Eun Ji’s…

Anonymous says:

Disconnected An odd family, mentally ill in my judgment. Korean immigrant parents in California leave 15-year-old daughter and slightly older son and move to Seoul for 7 years. Nothing makes sense, the writing is scattered and disjointed, and the overall impression is of a family and author unable to create meaningful connections.

Anonymous says:

Beautifully Balanced Between Love and Longing This is a powerfully poignant collection of letters that is woven into a beautiful tale of love. Though her mother uses loving language in her letters, EJ Koh remains true to her own voice and shows us her perspective and the painful side of growing up without the everyday support and physical presence of her parents. Such a wonderful read.

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