Sunday 6 May 2012

This Burns My Heart

In a remarkable easy-to-read style, Samuel Park addresses the philosophical issue of free will and choice in his debut novel THIS BURNS MY HEART.

The central character is a beautiful and intelligent Korean girl, Soo-Ja. The reader comes to know Soo-Ja through the twists and turns of a life created by the convergence of several factors beyond her control. The social conditions (South Korea after the Korean War); her ambitions as a woman in a restrictive culture (she wants to be a diplomat in a society that only expects well-bred young women to marry and care for her husband, in-laws and children); and her ancestral background (born to wealthy parents) all set the stage for Soo-Ja’s journey.
From her Father’s decision about Soo-Ja’s career to the husband she chose to the decision made by the slimy (but helpful) property developer Mr Gi-Yong, THIS BURNS MY HEART constantly reminds one of the need for a conscious awareness of the consequences of our choices, not only those which affect us, but those which affect others. “I was young. I was a fool,” said Soo-Ja and encapsulates the underlying melancholy that runs through this novel. Often, we have to make major life choices when we are too young to understand the consequences.

With delicate passion and deft skill, Park leads us through Soo-Ja’s emotional evolution from a young, rather spoilt girl, to a mature woman who faces her past mistakes, endures their consequences and ultimately finds the courage to make a different choice. Later in her life, as she grows into an acceptance of what is, Soo-Ja reflects , “She had not been allowed to pursue happiness; only to try to find some meaning in her sufferings, and look for a way, however small, to make sense of her disappointments.”

We shape our lives and we shape ourselves…
and the choices we make 
are ultimately our responsibility
~  Eleanor Roosevelt

Many times, I found myself thinking of my own country and its people. From the description of Chu-Sook’s mother’s shack; the youth challenging a repressive government; the low image of Korea that ex-pat Koreans have of the country (perhaps as a way to justify their choice to leave their birthplace) and the complexities of Soo-Ja’s intergenerational family relationships, this novel rises above superficial cultural differences and penetrates to the core of our common humanity.

In vivid detail, Park brings Soo-Ja’s world alive for the reader. From the vibrant street markets of Daegu to a dingy inn in modern Seoul, one can smell the noodles cooking and hear the horns blaring. This is the Soo-Ja’s world, but it could be mine. Both flawed and very human, she is a heroine whose desires, mistakes and emotional growth could be those of any woman, anywhere in the world.

With sensitively drawn characters and an engrossing love this story did exactly what it promised: at times, my heart ached , not only for Soo-Ja, but for all those whose presence was intricately woven through her life.

Samuel Park’s THIS BURNS MY HEART is an engrossing read that raises questions that linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned. Since finishing it, I have spent many hours reflecting on the choices I've made in my life. Soo-Ja's story helped show me that even the bad choices I made could be turned into inner victories: "The life she had was in fact the one she’d been supposed to have, she told herself. Without its lessons, how could she have become the woman she was?"


I’m giving away a free copy in the format of your choice of THIS BURNS MY HEART to one lucky blog reader. All you have to do is leave a blog comment below telling me what is the most memorable choice you made in your life or tell me where you shared this blogpost or, if you tweet about this review, simply mention @judy_croome and I'll pick up your entry that way.

Competition closes 31st May 2012. 


Judith Mercado said...

The choice to prevail in the face of life-slaying physical challenges enabled me to grow into a writer with a passion for sharing my unique perspectives. I would not have become a writer, either of fiction or of poetry, had it not been for my forced departure from the conventional professional trajectory. No one is more surprised than I to find myself writing novels, short stories, and poetry, when previously how far up I climbed on the corporate ladder was what defined me. While there are circumstances in my current life I would seek to change, this discovery of me as a writer is something I am grateful to embrace.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

JUDITH: Your story is an inspiring example of how making a choice to be positive and rise above external circumstances over which one has no control can lead to surprising rewards. Long may you continue to write! :)

Lisa said...

Sometimes the choices we make make no difference if they are not accepted.

Damaria Senne said...

My most memorable choice is the choice to be a writer, instead of the medical doctor or scientist that my family hoped I would be. It was life- changing and even today, I still deal with the consequences, good (dream career) and bad (most writers don't earn a lot of money). I have no regrets though. Given the opportunity to choose again, I would still choose to be a writer.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like a powerful, thoughtful book!

I think the most important choices I've made are in deciding who to marry, to have children and to be a teacher. I think they've all turned out rather well :)

CA Heaven said...

Great theme. That's what life is all about, isn't it? I guess Korea is a good setting, because that's where the contrasts are at the most extreme right now, between the south and the north.

Regarding South Africa and the fight against apartheid, I had some great reads many years ago, the books by Andre Brink. Things seams to go in the right direction in your country now?

Cold As Heaven

Cold As Heaven

Ann Summerville said...

This sounds like a book that would open a lot of discussion and a good book club read. For me, the biggest decision I made was moving from England to the U.S. Moving to another continent with a three year old child was not easy, but despite the hardships I feel it was a good decision for both me and my daughter.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Terrible, I know, but I'm still lagging behind on all my social media! Every time I think I'm about to catch up something else happens in what's shaping up to be a very eventful year! :) And so onto your comments before something else happens to distract me...

OCEANGIRL: Interesting point! But don’t you think that even if a choice we make is not accepted by others, we’re still left with a choice? It may not be the choice we wanted to make, but it’s still a choice and therefore still able to make a difference to our lives?

DAMARIA: That you have no regrets about your choice to be a writer is proof positive that you made the right choice! A lovely place to be it…knowing that you’d make the same choice again! :)

JEMI: It’s a great read! Easy and yet deep! And yes, deciding who to marry and whether or not to have children are HUGE choices. Glad yours turned out well! We decided not to have kids and most times I’m happy with that choice, but at times like the big family occasions, both happy and sad, I do confess a small voice asks me if choosing no kids was the correct choice. Too late to change it now, though, so have to be happy with my stories as my “children”!!

COLD: Too true – life *is* all about making choices and then accepting the consequences. Andre Brink is still highly regarded here in SA. We’re a society that slowly normalising – we have our ups and downs, but we can laugh at ourselves now. Current front page comedy is the painting depicting our philandering President kaalgat (naked!). The noises the present government are making about this artwork reminds me of the bad old days of tyranny and censorship in this country!

ANN: Oh yes, this will make a fabulous book club read – you could get some great discussions going around it! Moving to a new town is a huge step, so moving a whole continent is very brave!! I’m so glad it worked out for you & your daughter!

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Only one more day to enter the free giveaway of THIS BURNS MY HEART!

I'll be away for a few days and will announce the winner on 4th June.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

I included those people who re-tweeted about this post! (Each tweet was a separate entry.)

Onto the fun part! Now that I no longer have my darling old girl, HRH Theodorable, lending a helping paw with the draws on my blog, I had to do the draw with the help of

Annnnd the winner of the free copy of THIS BURNS MY HEART by Samuel Park is...


Congratulations, Jemi. I'll be in touch to find out whether you want a print book or an e-copy of the book.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thank you so much! You made my day :)