Saturday, January 28, 2012

limited narrative

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: At the outset, this book seems to be about a fairly ordinary Korean-American family.  Although the younger sister has left town without telling her family where she's gone, her actions seem like an understandable act of rebellion (as opposed to the mystery the jacket-blurb would have you believe).  In point of fact, she is relatively easily found and returned to the family fold, although the real reasons she left are frustratingly left un-fleshed out.

Soon after we meet this family, however, it seems as though the book is really about cruelty.  There are acts of cruelty perpetrated by the government, by spouses, sisters, parents, and other family members against one another.  This part of the book is very difficult to read, not just because of the descriptions of cruelty, but because they were so unexpected after the book's opening, and because I never really understood why we were presented with so much cruelty.  It doesn't seem to help us understand much about how the family interacts during the father's illness and decline, which takes up much of the book.  Yet even here the story seems insubstantial and can't support the weight that the author seems to be trying to give it.

There might have been more to this story if it had been told in multiple perspectives.  But because it is told in the first-person of the older sister, a character who doesn't seem to grow or change, the book itself stagnates.  By denying us the insights of any of the other characters, the author limits what the reader can get out of the book.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

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