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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home by Kim Sunée

This isn’t a rare story: that of a Korean adoptee coming of age struggling with feeling less than whole, feeling dissociated, feeling her differences and not fitting in anywhere. What makes this memoir different is the author’s strong prose, a tunnel-like focus on food and the inclusion of recipes. In the same vein as Ruth Reichl’s TENDER AT THE BONE, which also included recipes, there is a difficult mother, and youthful love that both heals old wounds and creates wounds of its own. Kim Sunée, abandoned in a marketplace at age three, is adopted by a New Orleans couple and grows up with loving, food-centric grandparents in and around many kitchens and dining tables. Uncomfortable in her own skin and always on the run, Sunée travels to France, then Stockholm, where she meets Olivier, the founder of L’Occitaine. Many years her senior, wealthy, very French, and controlling, a love affair of several years in Provence ensues. Olivier is determined to provide his love with everything she wants, in his vain (both meanings of the word) attempt to bring her happiness. She remains vague and unformed, and while she is an obvious beauty, an accomplished cook and self-claimed poet, she is unable to accept his gifts of wealth, privilege, a ready-made family and love. His love for her is suspect: is it her Asian difference that is so attractive to him; her unformed character into which he can then pour all his own needs and demands? After several years, she leaves him as a way to find herself and remains in Paris, going through a number of apparently insignificant love affairs, until her grandfather’s death makes her realize she wants him back. But Olivier is with another, older woman, his pride wounded and passion subsided. After some therapy along the way, she sees her path is back towards home and family, and that “she is hungry after all,” to use her frequent metaphor.

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