The first novel about present-day North Korea to be published in the West.
A moving and true-to-life tale of courage in the face of oppression and exile.
Hyejin Kim’s Jia follows the adventures of an orphaned young woman, Jia, who has the grace of a dancer but the misfortune of coming from a politically suspect family. In the isolated mining village of her childhood, Jia’s father, a science teacher, questions government intrusion into his classroom and is taken away by police, never to be heard from again. Now Jia must leave the village where her family has been sent as punishment to carve a path for herself. Her journey takes her first to Pyongyang, and finally to Shenyang in northeast China. Along the way, she falls in love with a soldier, befriends beggars, is kidnapped, beaten, and sold, negotiates Chinese culture, and learns to balance cruel necessity with the possibilities of kindness and love. Above all, Jia must remain wary, always ready to adapt to the “capricious political winds” of modern North Korea and China.
This debut novel gives readers a rare glimpse into both historical and modern North Korea through the eyes of Jia, whose life begins with her mother's death; the publisher is calling it "the first novel about present-day North Korea to be published in English."Kim, who frequently writes on Asian issues, crafts an unsettling account of a North Korean woman caught up in events she neither controls nor understands. As a small child, Jia leaves the hard-scrabble mountain home of her fraternal grandparents against her will and travels to the city of Pyongyang to join her other grandparents. Jia, whose long limbs serve as a constant point of comparison with her mother - a beautiful dancer married to a rebellious teacher - is rejected by her mother's father. Consigned to an orphanage, she matures into a natural dancer, leaving the institution only when a troupe chooses her to perform at an important celebration. Trained in the art of traditional Korean song and dance, Jia settles into a satisfying, if not very exciting, existence, but when the leadership of her country changes, so does everything else. No stranger to hardship and with little left to lose, she struggles with cruelty, loneliness and hunger before making a desperate decision. Like Jia, the author also struggles through this story, populating it with characters who never seem to resolve their issues. They pop up and disappear like literary whack-a-moles. Family, friends, teachers, a suitor and a young, injured boy all make appearances, but appear only as convenient pegs upon which to hang the plot. Hampered by a persistently passive voice, the action is contrived, and the novel's resolution unsatisfying as a series of events converge to bring the story to a halt, leaving behind lots of loose ends. In need of better editing and character development, the book fails to generate reader empathy. Reads more like an unedited first draft. (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 240
Published: 1st June 2007
Publisher: Cleis Press
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 20.3 x 14.0 x 2.54
Weight (kg): 0.25