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It's hard to neatly encapsulate this wonder of a book. Koh translates her mother's letters from Korean, written during a time when the two were living in the U.S. and South Korea respectively. The rest is memoir drawn from that time but also reaching far back into family history. It's so much more than a sum of its parts, and its quiet, piercing intelligence has stayed with me.— Steve
“A beautifully written memoir of history, culture, past, and present — this might be one of the best books I’ve read all year and a close second to Pachinko, one of my all-time favorites. The letters from a mother read from her daughter’s perspective really give you a sense of the complexity of family relationships, and how certain events mold the consequences of what’s to come. Just beautiful!”
— Desirae Wilkerson, Paper Boat Booksellers, Seattle, WA
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award
Named One of the Best Books by Asian American Writers by Oprah Daily
We will look back at our time apart and laugh together and be sad, but we will have many stories. If you have no suffering, you have no story to tell—isn’t it true?
The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters in Korean over the years seeking forgiveness and love—letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the loss and destruction her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love?
The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing—in Eun Ji Koh—a singular, incandescent voice.