Reviewer Debolina Raja Gupta: Debolina is a writer and a poet, and was among the 2010 winners of an all-India competition for debut writing in literature and poetry, wherein she was chosen to present her writing in front of a live audience in New Delhi. She is an active blogger, especially talking about books, and was a participant in the online version of BEA, Armchair Book Expo America 2011. At present she is working towards publishing her first manuscript based on fiction, while working on the second one. In her spare time she feeds street kids in India and she is working to create more empathy in people for our little ones on the streets.
Author: Samuel Park
Publishers: Simon & Schuster
Author: Samuel Park
Publishers: Simon & Schuster
When I was approached by BookPleasures to review Samuel Park 'sThis Burns My Heart, I was immediately drawn to the plot. I have always loved stories that deal with emotion, family, and real situations, and especially those that talk about culture and traditions of a particular place and its people. A few weeks later, the publishers Simon & Schuster, in association with BookPleasures, sent me a hardcover copy of the novel.
Samuel Park’s beautiful novel opens in the year 1960 in a place called Daegu, South Korea. The protagonist, Soo-Ja, is a young girl, no more than a student, and even at this young age, we get a glimpse of her strong character and fierce streak of independence. Living in post-war Korea, her dreams are more open in scope, and there is nothing that can make her settle for something that is lesser than the best. Aiming to make this world a better place, Soo-Ja wants to be a diplomat, to travel the world, see new places and meet new people, while using her skills and charms to influence the heavy-weight decision-makers.
But her ambitions are bigger than what her traditional family may be able to handle. With a father who is rich and respected in the social circles, Soo-Ja, being the daughter of the house, is supposed to tread in paths that will continue to behold that respect. If she must absolutely work before getting married, she can at best be allowed to be a teacher or a secretary, but a diplomat? That’s a strict no.
With her zeal to do something meaningful, Soo-Ja gets drawn into the youth demonstrations. With the new acquaintance of a young man named Min, who quickly turns into a lover, Soo-Ja takes part in the demonstrations, where she comes in contact with Yul, the charismatic youth leader. Soo-Ja feels an instant pull, an attraction she cannot explain. She knows she loves Min, wants to marry him, but there is something about Yul she finds hard to ignore, getting drawn to him despite all the warnings in her head. When finally Yul proposes marriage, Soo-Ja turns him down in favour of Min, the man she loves. But will this decision change her life forever? Was there something Soo-Ja could have had with Yul that she can never hope to achieve by marrying Min? Is this the point that will push her to her doom?
The beauty of This Burns My Heart is not just in its narration and description, the charm, lies in the protagonist, Soo-Ja. This is no perfect heroine we have here, many will find her flawed - she loved another man while she was planning her marriage with someone else - she is fiercely independent, sometimes to the point of being brazen, she likes to take control, and she only wants the best for herself. Some may find her dominating. Then again, Soo-Ja is kind, compassionate and fair. With the strength of will that not many heroines have been credited with, Soo-Ja faces the world on her own when all else falls apart. Not one to bow down in the face of adversities, Soo-Ja has the courage and dedication in her to hold up a failing sail, to row the boat till land arrives.
While the author builds a powerful heroine, who is at once flawed and charming, he gives equal attention to his two other protagonists – Min and Yul.
I especially loved the novel because of its glimpse into a world that is different from mine, of customs and daily practices that are somewhat similar, yet find a different context in a new setting. Samuel Park brings to life the real-life Korea in a way I have yet to come across. With celebrations, rituals, traditions, even local language, being blended beautifully into passages and sentences, readers will get a glimpse of the post-war Korea in the years gone by, while not really having to struggle with too much smattering of the local flavor. A story that begins in the 60s in Korea will take us through time to the modern-day Korea, to the changes that its people have gone through, and what it has done to their social and personal lives.
While family and emotions are a strong theme in the novel, the author makes sure nothing goes over-the-top. With constant twists and turns throughout the story, the novel soon turns into an un-putdown-able read, and you constantly want to know what happens next.
A story that will linger with you for some time. Strongly recommended.