A disciplined, engrossing work about learning to love generously and the role language can play in closing one off and opening one to understanding, The Magical Language of Others is an incredible achievement. A translation of memory, words, and feelings that, like all good translations, communicates the essence of the original text while creating something new and beautiful. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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 loss and destruction 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?
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.
"Stunning." Alexander Chee, author of How To Write An Autobiographical Novel
"Indisputably brilliant." Jeannie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl
"Exquisite....This memoir will pierce you." Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
"Koh remarkably and beautifully translates the language of mothers as the language of survivors." Don Mee Choi, author of DMZ Colony
"Give yourself over to her narrative territory and the resetting of the borders of lineage, language, and lives lost." Shawn Wong, author of American Knees
"A coming-of-age story, a family story, and a meditation on language and translation, with an emotional range to match." Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations
"The Magical Language of Others is an exquisite, challenging, and stunning memoir. E. J. Koh intricately melds her personal story with a broader view of Korean history. Through these pages, you are asked to experience one family's heartbreak, trauma, and complex love for each other. This memoir will pierce you." Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
About the Author
E. J. Koh is the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize, and co-translator of Yi Won's The World's Lightest Motorcycle, forthcoming from Zephyr Press. Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and World Literature Today, among others. She earned her MFA in Literary Translation and Creative Writing from Columbia University, and is completing the PhD program at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a recipient of MacDowell and Kundiman fellowships.
E. J. Koh on PowellsBooks.Blog
At the Seattle Art Museum, I saw a Rothko exhibit where he was quoted: "To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command." It reminded me of how I hoped to write The Magical Language of Others
. I didn’t want to command the story — I wanted to be lost in it....