cover image 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster

8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster

Mirinae Lee. Harper, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-324042-1

Lee debuts with an ambitious if overwrought chronicle of a Korean woman who has survived a century of famine and wars. The episodic narrative is framed as a series of interviews between an obituary writer and the elderly Ms. Mook, whose harrowing experiences began at an early age. She describes poisoning her father in 1938, to save her mother from his abuse, and her kidnapping by Japanese soldiers who force her into sexual slavery at a Comfort Station. There, she forms a bond with Yongmal, who helps her endure the violence. When the Americans bomb the station, Ms. Mook escapes. During the Korean War, she works as a translator at the Monkey House, a brothel where Korean girls are forced to have sex with American soldiers. Eventually, she frees the surviving girls and burns the place down. She makes her way to Yongmal’s husband in 1955 and allows him to believe she’s his long-lost wife, who died at the station from tuberculosis. Though the prose is a bit strained (“The sun was an ebullient eye in the middle of the acid-blue sky”), the protagonist’s harrowing and vibrant stories are hard to turn away from. This doesn’t always work, but when it does, it hits hard. (June)