The Lucky Gourd Shop

Joanna Catherine Scott, Author MacAdam/Cage Publishing $25 (290p) ISBN 978-1-878448-01-9
After nearly 11 years with their American adoptive parents, Dae Young, 17, and his sisters Li Na, 16, and Tae Hee, 14, decide they want to know more about their ancestry. But information provided by the Korean orphanage from which the siblings were adopted doesn't match their memories. In this atmospherically detailed and deeply felt work, the children's quest serves as a preface to the central tale, which flashes back to South Korea a generation earlier, to recount the life of the children's mother, Mi Sook. Abandoned as a newborn, Mi Sook is found by the wife of the owner of a coffee shop in Seoul, who keeps her in the back room of the shop and leaves her there four years later when the shop is sold. Each time the business changes hands, Mi Sook gets a new ""mommy"" who may be fond of her but never loves her. The engineering students who frequent the shop teach her to read and write, and Mi Sook, still living in the back room, eventually becomes manager. The young beauty catches the eye of a laborer, Kun Soo, who lies to her about his marital and financial status. Before they marry, he and Mi Sook have a son together, but when he takes her to his dilapidated house in Inch'on, Mi Sook realizes she's been trapped, and she mourns the loss of her independence. When their second child is a daughter, Kun Soo begins to beat Mi Sook. After her husband dies of injuries while drunk, Mi Sook discovers that he had other wives and many other offspring. Mistrustful of a generous offer that would provide for her children, she returns to Seoul, where she gets her old job back. But her children wind up in an orphanage, and when Mi Sook is offered a chance at true love, she is forced to make a practical, heartbreaking decision. Scott's (Indochina's Refugees; Charlie and the Children) empathy for her vulnerable protagonist and her understanding of the cultural issues in Korean society make this an engrossing tale, albeit one marred by an ending that fails to resolve the opening theme. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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FORMATS
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-7434-3735-6
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