Forgotten Memories: A War Story. Young-Im Lee. Yei Won Lim/Bn Publishing. June 2017. 484 pp. ISBN #: 9781684113828.
1945 ended WWII and South Korea is still recovering from the Japanese Occupation. Anything that was edible was stolen by Japanese troops, therefore the poverty and struggles of farmers and local businesses is an ever-present, poignant reminder of the terrors of war.
Ji-Iseul, Jung-Soo and Yeong-Hoon are the three main characters in the story, which changes from present to past repeatedly. Ji-Iseul initially is an elderly person being moved into a hospice as she is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The granddaughter Jia encourages her to tell what she can remember, inspired by a guitar that sits in the corner of her grandmother’s room. An old piece of paper is found inside the guitar and that is the catalyst that makes the memories return to Iseul.
The relationship between the three characters is depicted as a close one, although the reader is never sure whether a romance is developing or not between Iseul and Jung-Soo. Iseul is not that attractive but instead is admired by her father because she is such a hard work at “making paper,” a task that is quite difficult. Jung-Soo’s father is a rich man forcing the neighborhood to pay high taxes and living in a rich man’s home known as “The Golden Palace.” Yeong-Hoof is crippled but works hard for ISIL’s father. He is betrothed to Iseul but nothing further comes of that until the Korean War.
The life of the Koreans before and after the Korean War is a hard one, fraught with poverty and suspicion. One character, it is believed, steals rice that the people desperately need. American soldiers are portrayed as caring one minute but callous to the needs of the people the next. During war, some can leave without worrying about the future of the people left behind.
This isn’t a comforting story but it’s a necessary one. The author writes an epilogue about the Korean people being victims who have not truly decided what their country should be, democratic, communist, or otherwise. They believe more war will come. Whether that happens or not, this is a novel for the world to read, to realize that work, relationships and growth with change is vital for a people to become secure in themselves and not always dependent on the prevailing opponent waiting to devour more of a victimized South Korea. Recommended, despite some minor flaws in plotting, historical fiction!