Author: Svetlana Kim
From the very first paragraph of Svetlana Kim’s White Pearl and I: A Memoir of a Political Refuge, readers experience quite a riveting ride with amazing drama and fascinating history as the author recounts her journey from her Russian homeland to the United States where after ten years becomes a citizen.The 282 page memoir rarely lets up as Svetlana imparts her readers with scores of character sketches and various happenings of her ancestors that provide real insights into their spellbinding and difficult lives, particularly that of her grandmother Bya-ok (“White Pearl”) who had a profound influence on Kim’s own life and subsequent survival in the United States.
Author: Svetlana Kim
From the very first paragraph of Svetlana Kim’s White Pearl and I: A Memoir of a Political Refugee, readers experience quite a riveting ride with amazing drama and fascinating history as the author recounts her journey from her Russian homeland to the United States where after ten years becomes a citizen.
The 282 page memoir rarely lets up as Svetlana imparts her readers with scores of character sketches and various happenings of her ancestors that provide real insights into their spellbinding and difficult lives, particularly that of her grandmother Bya-ok (“White Pearl”) who had a profound influence on Svetlana's own life and subsequent survival in the United States.
As a background to the memoirs Svetlana points out there are approximately five hundred thousand ethnic Koreans living in the former USSR and like Svetlana speak the Russian Language. Up until recently these Koreans were completely ignored, for being a Korean in the Soviet Union was “taboo.” Accordingly, until recently, the taboo status meant that it was impossible to do any research pertaining to this ethnic group.
Svetlana 's paternal great-grandparents were the first generation of what are known as Koryo-Saram, which means “Korean person,” the people who came to Russia during the Joseon (also Choson or Chosun) Dynasty. Chosun is an ancient name for Korea that translates “Land of the Morning Calm.” Svetlana’s grandmother White Pearl or her babushka as she calls her was born in 1915 in the city of Suchan (Partizansk today) near Vladivostok. In 1937, when Svetlana's grandmother was twenty-two years old, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of nearly 200,000 Koreans to Central Asia in the former USSR. Her grandmother survived this traumatic ordeal and has passed on her experiences as well as her insightful philosophy concerning life to her granddaughter.
The details of Svetlana's voyage unfold in Russia in 1991 while she was standing in line for a loaf of bread. A former classmate of Svetlana, whom she describes as her school’s “resident bad boy,” drove up in a luxury automobile and offered to sell her an airplane ticket to New York for the ghastly sum of forty-five thousand rubbles. Svetlana gasped at the steep price tag for the tickets however, as she was quite determined to leave Russia with its preposterous bureaucracy and harsh life, accepted the offer promising to raise the necessary funds prior to her departure. Not one to give up easily, Svetlana, within one week, managed to raise the funds and obtain an American visa, which at the time was practically impossible to secure.
Here she was at the young age of twenty-three on December 18th, 1991 armed with her grandmother’s White Pearl’s practical teachings and temerity landing at JFK International Airport with one dollar in her pocket, no knowledge of the English language other than the word hi and no job prospects. Moreover, there was no one to meet or greet her. However, Svetlana did have her friend Ludmila’s phone number who a year ago had invited her to come to New York and live with her. Unfortunately, Svetlana never followed up and only at the airport with the aid of a young man who telephoned Ludmila did she learn that her friend had moved to Canada. She then realized that her friend had given up on her when she didn’t hear back from her.
In addition to this phone number, Svetlana also had a letter from her friend Nina who had a cousin Galina living in San Francisco. Through sign language and with the kind stranger ‘s assistance she discovered that San Francisco was not exactly around the corner from New York. Nonetheless, Svetlana was determined to travel to San Francisco and as she states, it was this Good Samaritan going out of his way to help a lost-looking young Korean woman from Russia who couldn’t speak English that came to her aid and helped her reach her destination. He even bought her a bus ticket at his expense, shepherd her through the maze of the New York subway to get her to the bus station and make sure she was safely on her way. The thought never entered her mind that he might harm her. Today, she often thinks of the kindness of this man whom incidentally she never learned his name and tries to repay him every chance she gets by extending herself to others who might be in need. You have to admit that here is one gal with a great deal of guts and chutzpah.
The ensuing narrative chronicles how Svetlana's life took shape in the USA and how she realized her dream in becoming a successful businesswoman with the aid of many more Good Samaritans whom she met along the way.
Svetlana Kim has mastered the art of weaving together a wonderful and inspiring memoir with concise, elegant prose that hits you between the eyes with great force. In addition, her story re-creates the high impact that can result from relations between people and family. And if you ever need a boost or some encouragement remember White Pearl’s philosophy that motivated Sveltlana “you will never know the outcome until you take action. You don’t know what potential you have until you use your potential and God-given gifts.”