cover image Black Flower

Black Flower

Young-ha Kim, trans. from the Korean by Charles la Shure. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-547-69113-8

Popular Korean novelist Kim (I Have the Right to Destroy Myself) chronicles the woeful tale of 1,033 Korean immigrants, who unknowingly sold themselves into indentured servitude. In 1905, lured by the promise of abundant food and work and eager to escape a regime in sharp economic decline on the eve of Japan’s impending invasion, these Koreans travel to Mexico’s Yucatan, where they’re made to toil in fields under harrowing conditions and given funds insufficient to feed their families. The story is told from a multitude of perspectives, ranging from the tyrannical overseers to the lowest Korean field workers (among them thieves, former soldiers, a fallen priest, and aristocrats). Orphan Ijeong dreams of saving enough money to return to Korea to become a landowner. Yi Yeonsu, a beautiful aristocrat’s daughter, hopes to attain some independence in Mexico. Ijeong and Yi Yeonsu fall in love, but without the ability to ensure that they are sold to the same hacienda, their romance seems doomed. This sprawling epic novel dips heavily into the concurrent Mexican revolution and the treatment of the Mayans. Spare and beautiful, Kim’s novel offers a look at the roots of the little-known tribulations of the Korean diaspora in Mexico. (Oct.)