AuthorsFrom the Wire

A Web of History: PW Talks with E.J. Koh

In the article “A Web of History: PW Talks with E.J. Koh”, author E.J. Koh discusses her novel, “The Liberators,” and the role that the legacy of the Korean War plays in shaping the narrative and characters. Koh explores the effects of the ongoing war between North and South Korea on individuals living in the diaspora, and the different perspectives and memories of the war held by each character. She also delves into the personal and historical events that inspired elements of the novel, such as the 1980 Gwangju Massacre and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Additionally, Koh reflects on her incorporation of personal perspectives on liberation into the story and the impact of past events on her own family.

A Web of History: PW Talks with E.J. Koh

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The Legacy of the Korean War

How the war informs the novel and its characters

The Korean War is an ongoing conflict between North and South Korea that has had a profound impact on the lives of Koreans living in the diaspora. In the novel “The Liberators” by E.J. Koh, the war serves as a backdrop for the story and deeply influences the characters’ lives. Koh wanted to explore the different perspectives of the war, both on a personal and collective level. She noticed that her family members had a sanctioned “approved national memory” of the war, but there was also a separate collective memory within the community. For her family, personal memories of the war served as a way to preserve and protect themselves.

Telling the Story from Multiple Perspectives

The author’s writing style

Editing process

Koh’s writing style involves telling the story from multiple perspectives, which she believes is the only way she can write. This style is evident in her previous works, such as her memoir “The Magical Language of Others” and her poetry collection “A Lesser Love.” In the first draft of her novel, she naturally incorporates multiple perspectives, and then she and her editor work together to pare it back and refine the storytelling.

A Web of History: PW Talks with E.J. Koh

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Incorporating Historical Events

1980 Gwangju Massacre

1988 Seoul Olympics

In “The Liberators,” Koh weaves in historical events from Korean history, such as the 1980 Gwangju Massacre and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. These events are significant to Koh’s story because they are connected to her parents’ personal history. Koh’s parents met and immigrated to the United States during the Olympics, which were hosted in both North and South Korea. The political conversations surrounding the games were intense and recurring during Koh’s childhood, making her bedtime stories quite interesting.

Personal Perspectives on Liberation

Mother-daughter-in-law relationship

Exploring pain and grief within a community

One aspect of liberation that Koh explores in her novel is the mother-daughter-in-law relationship. In a small community, one often assumes they are safe within their own family. However, Koh’s mother experienced a lack of liberation and a sense of pain and grief living with her mother-in-law. This lack of freedom came from within the community and not from external forces. Koh wanted to explore this theme in her novel and depict the ways in which pain and grief can exist within a community, even among family members.

A Web of History: PW Talks with E.J. Koh

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The Extended Spider Web of Family History

Parent’s history as inspiration

Bedtime stories as a source of inspiration

The inspiration for much of “The Liberators” comes from the extended spider web of Koh’s parents’ history. Koh’s parents’ experiences and journey, including their immigration to the United States during the Olympics, heavily influenced the novel. Koh’s childhood bedtime stories included intense political conversations surrounding the Olympics, providing her with a rich source of inspiration for her storytelling.

The Ongoing Conflict between North and South Korea

How it affects Koreans living in the diaspora

Different perspectives on the war

The ongoing conflict between North and South Korea has a significant impact on Koreans living in the diaspora. In “The Liberators,” Koh explores the different perspectives that individuals have on the war. The war, which has never truly ended, informs the daily lives of Koreans living outside of Korea. Koh wanted to portray how the war affects individuals and their sense of identity, as well as the different perspectives on the war within the Korean community.

Preserving and Protecting Personal Memories

Sanctioned national memory of war

Collective memory within a community

Personal memories of the war serve as a way for individuals to preserve and protect themselves. Koh observed that her family members had a sanctioned “approved national memory” of the war, but there were also collective memories within the community. These personal and collective memories shape individuals’ understanding of the war and contribute to their sense of identity. Koh wanted to explore these different layers of memory in her novel and depict how they influence the characters’ experiences.

The Role of Immigration in the Novel

Couple’s journey from South Korea to the U.S.

Immigration plays a significant role in “The Liberators.” The novel follows a Korean couple through an arranged marriage, a South Korean dictatorship, and their journey to the United States. Koh explores the challenges and experiences of immigrants as they navigate new cultures and ways of life. The couple’s journey serves as a vehicle to explore themes of identity, belonging, and the pursuit of liberation.

The Power of Memory in Preserving Identity

How personal memories shape characters

Memory as a form of self-protection

Memory plays a powerful role in preserving identity in “The Liberators.” Personal memories shape the characters’ understanding of themselves and the world around them. These memories serve as a form of self-protection and a way to navigate the challenges and pain they encounter. Koh delves into the ways in which memory shapes and influences the characters’ identities and their journey toward liberation.

Exploring Pain and Grief within a Community

Internal sources of suffering

Walking toward lack of liberation

In “The Liberators,” Koh explores the theme of pain and grief within a community. She depicts the ways in which suffering can come from internal sources, rather than external ones. This lack of liberation and the resulting pain and grief are not imposed on the characters from outside, but instead, emerge from within their community. Koh aims to shed light on this aspect of suffering and invites readers to walk toward a deeper understanding of liberation and its complexities.

Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/93192-a-web-of-history-pw-talks-with-e-j-koh.html