Forgotten Country

The forgotten country in Catherine Chung's memorable first novel is not Korea, but an America that has become taboo for those still earnestly seeking fulfillment. Forgotten Country begins with the sudden disappearance of Hannah, Janie's younger sister. Hannah's disappearance turns out to be temporary, but it echoes past disappearances--both voluntary and coerced--throughout the lives of other female members in the sisters' Korean-American family. Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, Janie's grandmother has told her, their family has lost a daughter in every generation. On the day Hannah was born, Janie was told to keep Hannah safe; she understandably feels shackled by this onerous burden. Hannah's disappearance also reminds her mother of her own sister's erasure--she was abducted by North Koreans and never heard from again.

While these disappearances subvert the relationship between the protector and the protected, love eats away at the family member who successfully "saves" her charge. Janie and Hannah's paternal aunt is a bitter woman who sacrificed her youth to raise their father and feels that her brother owes her his very existence.

In Forgotten Country, the past--a vigilant revenant--tirelessly seeks to strangle the present. The novel seamlessly incorporates Austen and Chekhov to create a claustrophobic milieu where emotional snares lurk behind well-choreographed behavior and modes of speech. Characters cross an entire ocean to congregate in a country house, but nothing changes from the outside of things. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

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