This is a first-rate piece of writing

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plappen's review of Forgotten Reflections

★★★★★

“This is a first-rate piece of writing”

Written on: 20/06/2017 by plappen (119 reviews written)

Forgotten Reflections, Young-Im Lee, 2017, ISBN 9780547088430

This historical novel takes place in South Korea, both during the mid-20th century, and in the present day.

In 1945, Korea's Japanese occupiers had just left, leaving a devastated country behind; there was very little to eat. Iseul was a young woman living in a village called The Wasteland, which was part of Yeoju (back then, Yeoju was a county; it became a city in 2013). People believed that village carpenters, like Iseul's father, could put ghosts in chairs and tables that they made, so Iseul was not looked down on.

A young man named Jung-Soo, part of a well-off family, was brought to the village, as an attempt to get him "out of the way." His father may, or may not, be a Communist spy from the North. In the beginning, the relationship between Iseul and Jung-Soo is pretty rocky.

A few years later, war returns to Korea. Starvation is a constant danger, the local forest around The Wasteland is pretty much cleaned out of any edible fruits and vegetables. All able-bodied men, including Jung-Soo, are conscripted into the South Korean Army. Plain white writing paper has become almost impossible to get, so Iseul leads the women of The Wasteland, and the neighboring villages, to make paper from the bark of the local trees. They are quite successful, making thousands of sheets of paper. The women include blank sheets of paper with letters to their husbands, intending that they give them to other soldiers.

The war is not going well for the South, including the Americans. Jung-Soo learns that the North, including the Chinese, intend to push the South between two mountain ranges. At the point of the mountain ranges is Yeoju. Some of the battle will reach The Wasteland. Jung-Soo is convinced that he has to get back to the village and warn the women. They already know; some join the exodus of refugees heading south, while others want to stay and fight. The armies may be coming because of a rumored huge storehouse of rice. Does war come to The Wasteland again? Do Iseul and Jung-Soo get back together/

This is a first-rate piece of writing. It may take some effort on the part of the reader; give it a chance. It is the sort of novel that could take place anywhere in the world, and during any war. Yes, it is very much worth reading.

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