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If You Leave Me: A Novel by Crystal Hana Kim
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If You Leave Me: A Novel (2018)

by Crystal Hana Kim

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907204,440 (3.31)1
An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love, the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they're forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today. When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family's makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan. Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn't realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi, and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come. Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman's longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This a great debut novel for Crystal Hana Kim. Not only does it take the reader into the Korean Conflict and life in Korea after the war, the three flawed main characters in a painful love story makes the story more poignant. They were “real” people, their actions and final outcomes reflected their personalities and the time in which they lived. ( )
  brangwinn | Aug 15, 2019 |
Although I found I empathized with Haemi and her daughters and everything about the story, I was frustrated with the novel's structure. The story jumps forward in time with each chapter but then pieces within the chapter look back; they're interspersed with little and were a good idea in theory but I found the execution a little confusing. A touching story overall. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
This novel begins in 1951 in a refugee village during the Korean War. Haemi is 16 and helps her mother take care of her little brother Hyunki, who struggles with breathing. Her father died laboring in the mines for Japan when Korea was under Japanese rule.

Haemi regularly sneaks out at night to get drunk with her best friend Kyunghwan. She and Kyunghwan have feelings for one another, but neither has the nerve to admit it to the other.

Kyunghwan has a rich cousin, Jisoo, 18, who is determined to marry Haemi and then enlist. Jisoo is contemptuous of Kyunghwan for not wanting to enlist, but Kyunghwan doesn’t see the point:

“I wanted to tell him that I remembered our years under Japanese rule. How we were perpetually hungry, how we weren’t even allowed to speak our own tongue. We had no power in this fight, either. We were pawns, tossed around by Japan, then the Soviets and the United States. I didn’t want to join their cause. And above all, I was too weak, untrained. I would be killed.”

Analogously, Kyunghwan, although he loves Haemi, feels he has nothing to offer her either, unlike Jisoo, who could support her.

The story moves forward in time and also alternates among a group of narrators. Haemi does marry Jisoo, although she loves Kyunghwan. She tries to love Jisoo instead, but can’t forget Kyunghwan. It becomes even worse for them when Jisoo starts to seek comfort elsewhere. Nevertheless, they have several children.

Haemi sees Kyunghwan again after eleven years, and in some ways nothing has changed. Both feel the same, yet constrained by the roles not only determined by convention but by their gender and social class.

Tragedy strikes often in the lives of all of these people, but instead of strengthening them, it seems only to make them more despondent, and apt to go looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. There is no redemption, but only anger and frustration. Perhaps, this is a more realistic turn of events than more upbeat stories.

Evaluation: This is one unhappy group of people, and I didn’t come to like any of them. But the portrayal of Korean culture is excellent. ( )
  nbmars | Jan 11, 2019 |
I wasn’t sure what this book wanted to be. At first it seemed to be a sweeping historical fiction during the Korean War, then turned quickly to a stereotypical love triangle romance (if you are madly In love with your poor childhood friend who thinks you are the smartest person he knows it’s a bad idea to marry his rich cousin who loves you for your looks and can help your family. It’s just going to turn out badly), then the last 1/3 of the book somewhat continues the love triangle but really becomes a pretty serious narrative about post-partum depression and anxiety.
I liked that it was told from multiple characters point of view, except my favorite one who seemed the most well-developed character dies halfway through. ( )
  strandbooks | Dec 31, 2018 |
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Epigraph
I the self
longing for cloud
the earth
the man
stand dreamily
like haze
on my eyelids from where
the war has scattered

---Chon Pong-gon, "Hope"
Dedication
And for my sister, Diana
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Kyunghwan and I met where the farm fields ended and our refugee village began.
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