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Monday, December 28, 2020

Harrowing Korean War Novel a Tense, Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Living in North Korea means being on guard at all times.  The Pak family knows they must never criticize the government, they must always attend Communist meetings, and they cannot trust their neighbors to keep their secrets.  Above all, they have to keep their Bible well hidden, so that their illegal Christian beliefs are never revealed.  In addition to all of society's rules, 12-year-old Sora also lives under the constant watch of her overbearing mother, who insists Sora follow traditional female roles.  Although she's smart and ambitious, Sora is no longer allowed to attend school.  Instead, she cooks, cleans, watches her younger brothers, and in all ways prepares to be a proper wife in an arranged marriage.  Sora loves her 8-year-old brother, Youngsoo, but she can't help feeling resentful and jealous of his privileged status as a beloved oldest son.  If Sora could only continue her education, she knows she could make her family proud of her, even if she is only a lowly daughter.  

With the threat of war looming over the country, the Pak family has more serious concerns.  Like many of their neighbors, they decide to leave their home and flee to the south, where they hope to find safety.  Attempting to escape North Korea is considered treason, so Sora and her family sneak off in the night.  When a bomb drops nearby, she and Youngsoo are separated from their parents.  Knowing they cannot return home, the children set off on the 400-mile journey to Busan, South Korea, on their own.  The trip will be treacherous, full of danger around every turn.  Can the pair survive hunger, illness, freezing weather, wild animals, exhaustion, and—scariest of all—other terrified refugees, to reach their goal?  Or will they become more innocent casualties of a despotic regime determined to terrorize its citizens into submission? 

Brother's Keeper, a debut novel by Julie Lee, is loosely based on the experiences of the author's mother during the Korean War.  It tells a harrowing story that's as fascinating as it is haunting.  Sora is a very sympathetic character whose frustrations are authentic and relatable.  She's brave, determined, and loyal, all of which make her a heroine who's admirable and root-worthy.  The plot is compelling, with lots of tense action to keep it exciting.  Although Brother's Keeper is a sad book, it's also poignant, illuminating, and touching.  I've never read a novel about the Korean War, but this one made me eager to learn more.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeon-seo Lee)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, difficult subject matter, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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