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Secondhand Worldby Katherine Min
Synopses & Reviews
My name is Isadora Myung Hee Sohn and I am eighteen years old. I was recently ninety-five days on a pediatric burn unit at Tri-State Medical Center, in Albany, New York, being treated for second- and third-degree burns on my legs, complicated by a recurring bacterial infection. The same fire that injured me killed my parents, Hae Kyoung Chung and Tae Mun Sohn, on June 11, 1976, at approximately 3:20 a.m.
It's very isolating to recover from a severe burn injury. The pain requires a great deal of attention and inward focus. While your skin tissue rages and dies, you try and put yourself as far away as possible mentally, to take refuge in small, retrievable thoughts. Nursery rhymes are sometimes useful, as are television theme songs and knock-knock jokes.
Here's a riddle. A jumbo jet takes off from New York en route to Vancouver with 246 people on board. There's a massive snowstorm, visibility worsens, passengers pray and panic. The pilot loses control, and the plane ends up doing a nosedive on the border of the United States and Canada. The weather is so bad it takes the rescue helicopters two days to get to the remote crash site in the mountains. When they finally manage to land, amid the snow and the wreckage, they're confronted with a terrible dilemma. Since the plane crashed exactly on the boundary line separating the two countries, the recovering authorities don't know whether to bury the survivors in Canada or the United States.
It took me a while to get it. The trick is knowing where to focus. There's so much clamor and confusion-the plane, the storm, the panic-that you're easily thrown off. You end up overlooking what you should have noticed right away.
The fact is that survivors aren't buried. They keep walking around. They go through the varied motions of normalcy, trying to forget the screams, the shudder of the fuselage, the sound of crumpling metal. The frozen wait among the dead for rescue.
Many years before the fire that killed my parents, there was another fire. In Seoul, Korea, my mother had grown up among a harem of sisters, hoarded like treasure, quarantined like contagion, inside a high wall that contained the buildings and courtyards of the Chung family compound. My grandfather was a high-ranking government official who spent most of his time carousing with kesang girls and gambling at cards. My grandmother, herself the daughter of a high-ranking official, was terse and irritable, weighted by disappointment in birthing only girls.
One night when my mother was eleven, a treat was set up in the cramped building where the servants slept. It was the viewing of one of the first silent films from America, obtained somehow by my grandfather, along with an ancient projector that wheezed and smoked as it threw its jangled images upon the wall.
The room was hot and crowded, but my mother hardly noticed, so taken was she by the figures of the dancing women. They wore loose clothing that floated behind them as they danced, with emblematic jewelry, and makeup that emphasized their wide eyes and sensuous lips. Alabaster skin, marcelled hair piled high. My mother had never seen such women. Their serpentine sway-unaccompanied by music or sound of any kind, except the restless movement of the children and the hawking of the
A fiercely determined and proud young woman growing up in a traditional Korean family, Isa repudiates her parents' strict adherence to Korean values and customs to pursue her own sexual education and runs away with an albino boy, and suspecting her mother's involvement with another man, sets out to reveal the affair, with deadly consequences. A first novel. Reprint.
Katherine Min was born in Champaign, Illinois, and was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Schenectady, New York. She attended Amherst College and the Columbia School of Journalism. She worked as a journalist in Boston; Seoul, Korea; Virginia and New Hampshire. Min is currently a professor of creative writing at Plymouth State University. She lives in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
About the Author
Katherine Min was born in Champaign, Illinois, and was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Clifton Park, New York. She attended Amherst College and the Columbia School of Journalism. She has been the recipient of writing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Hampshire Arts Council. She lives with her husband and children in New Hampshire.
From the Hardcover edition.
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