When her sister Hannah walks out on their family and disappears, refusing to return phone calls and emails, Junie is charged by their parents with finding her and bringing her home. Soon afterwards, their father is diagnosed with stage IV metastatic stomach cancer, and the search takes on new urgency. Janie struggles with her sister’s betrayal. The story is told through Janie’s eyes, and sometimes we get glimpses of how her own prejudice is slanting her portrayal.
The “forgotten country” of the title is Korea. The family emigrates to the US when the girls are in elementary school, and yet Korea remains a large part of their lives. Although the girls Americanize their names (becoming Junie and Hannah from Jeehyan and Haejin), the family deals with all the immigrant experience–loss, misunderstanding, discrimination, homesickness. The girls struggle with identity; who are they, who are they not? And yet the “forgotten country” of the title is so much more—it resides in past memories, in past horrors, in past events that have forever changed the family (even those not yet born), and in past places that are lost, gone forever and not recoverable. The “forgotten country” is also childhood. This is a book about the loss of a father. Forgotten Country is a book about family and the burdens parents place on the young, and the ways our past experiences change the shape of our very selves; the way past trauma in parents and grandparents affects children and grandchildren, even when they come to adulthood in a place half a world away.
Forgotten Country is a gorgeous book. The descriptions are vivid and lush, the characters moving and true to life. Sometimes when I really like a book, I have a hard time writing the review. So I want to make sure I communicate this: It’s a great book. You should read it.
Elizabeth enjoys learning about other countries and lives through books, as you probably do as well. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad.