This Burns My Heart (September, 2011)
This Burns My Heart is a compelling novel of historical fiction written by author, Samuel Park, an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College in Chicago. Dr. Park has explained that the inspiration for the novel came from his mother, a Korean immigrant to the United States. The novel is multifaceted but overall, a love story which encapsulates the hardships Koreans faced in the 1960’s in the aftermath of the Korean War. As a reviewer, I became engrossed in the struggles of the female protagonist, Soo-Ja, an independent and spirited young woman battling the conventional standards imposed on Korean women during this time period. As a writer and a male, Park has a talent for delivering a narrative from a female perspective. Some common themes in the novel include the complex choices people must make in life and the idea that some doors which seem closed may someday open again. Also, Park illustrates the wisdom and knowledge we will only truly gain with age.
As a young woman growing up in post-war Korea, Soo-Ja dreams of traveling to Seoul, the populated capital, to become a diplomat. Her loving but extremely traditional father squelches these aspirations and she decides to find her freedom another way. Beautiful Soo-Ja embarks on an unhappy and difficult marriage to Min Choi, a young man who has diligently pursued her for his own reasons. In the interim, Soo-Ja is caught up in the activism of the young people of Korea and makes the acquaintance of Yul Kim, a young rebel and doctor whose true love will haunt her for decades. The novel follows the lives of the three characters beyond the 1960’s with the ever evolving Korea as the backdrop. It also describes perhaps Soo-Ja’s greatest love, that of her daughter, Hana. It is a maternal love that will propel her decisions and influence the events of the story. Anyone who has been a parent or child will relate to the complexities of this most profound relationship.
The novel spans over twenty chapters but readers will be engrossed and involved in Park’s fascinating plot. When I finished reading the novel, I was truly sad to say goodbye to Soo-Ja and a sequel or film of the novel are definitely hopes for this reader. Thank you Dr. Samuel Park for your hard work and time in writing such a complex and intriguing novel that I plan on recommending to all the voracious readers I know.