Korean American Books

Summaries and reviews of fiction and nonfiction books by Korean American authors,
books about Korean Americans and Korea, and Korean literature in English translation,
including some academic works and a sampling on the Korean War

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Queen of Tears, by Chris McKinney

After the death of her second husband in Long Island, A famous Korean actress, Soong, travels to Hawaii for her son’s wedding. She moves to the big island and becomes embroiled in her children’s lives. Eldest daughter, Won Ju, the survivor of a traumatic attack in her youth, is in a loveless marriage to the ambitious and macho Kenny, and they have a 15-year-old son, Brandon. Second in the lineup is Donny, who is marrying Crystal, a native Hawaiian stripper. The last of the three children is Darian, a Berkeley dropout who becomes attached to Crystal’s ex-con brother Kaipo. Interspersed with the contemporary story of psychodrama stemming from cultural alienation and familial estrangement is Soong’s own story of her youth and rise to stardom in 1960s Seoul, a time of massive upheaval and reconstruction and change in Korean national identity. The struggles in this story are about identity and the integrity of culture in a fluid world where change is ever stirring and making the lines of distinction blur, culminating in losses that are impossible to express, as exemplified by Brandon’s actions and ultimate tragedy. McKinney’s writing is strong and quick, the characters interesting and whole. The themes of racial and cultural identity and the integrity of native Hawaiians is stressed, but any glory or redemption for this is lost once the quasi-hero of them all is returned to jail at the end.

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