If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
- Published August 7 2018
- Tags: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, South Korean Culture
- Format: E-Audio
- Pages: 417
| Synopsis From the Publisher |
When the communist-backed army from the North invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.
Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.
| Book Review |
– Content –
A heart-wrenching story about love and loss -> If you’re into really dramatic storytelling, this book is for you. Not only is there a really tense love triangle, but it’s to the backdrop of the Korean War and it’s between a woman and two cousins. The characters interact with each other under these tense circumstances. Kim’s book touches on cultural expectations, familial obligations, adultery, and the difficulties of motherhood. This book is a roller-coaster of emotions and your heart will definitely take a beating from all this drama!
A look at the effects of war and corruption on the young and old -> Kim’s story is set during the 1950s and a little after. It looks at life in Korea before, during, and after the Korean war, in which North and South Korea are split. All the main characters participate in the war, to different degrees, and Haemi’s brother participates in student protests of the government in the years after the war. I didn’t realize, setting out, how much of the book would focus on the Korean war. I learned a lot about personal feelings from the characters, and also got a sense of the general atmosphere in South Korea after the war. It was certainly an interesting aspect of the book.
Unlikable main characters populate the story -> I might have enjoyed this book more if it weren’t filled with really unlikable characters. I disliked all three main characters: Haemi, Kyunghwan, and Jisoo. Mostly they were just really unhappy, angry, and often took shots at each other just to keep each other miserable. I didn’t like the whole love-triangle aspect as it was one of the main themes of the story. Haemi and Jisoo get married, but Haemi and Kyunghwan have been into each other since before and continually meet up with each other and then break apart. It’s like the same cycle, repeated, every ten years or so and it got boring really fast for me. I guess if I were more emotionally invested in the characters I would have enjoyed their struggle more, but for me it was just an obnoxious will-they-won’t-they between characters that I couldn’t care less about.
– Literary Value-
Strong writing, poor plot -> I felt that Kim’s writing was good. She could really paint a picture of the world the story was set in. I felt like I could see each of the characters, I could see the spaces they moved about in. For a literary novel, I don’t think it got too flowery or over-dramatic. Kim mostly stayed true to the realism she was trying to convey.
Unfortunately, the storyline itself was just a huge let-down. Essentially all the poignant moments, for me, are overshadowed by how unlikable the characters are and the annoying love-triangle takes center stage. At the end, I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to have taken away from this story. The difficulties of love between these characters really ruined their lives and there was, eventually, a really painful ending that left me feeling just as depressed as I felt at the beginning of the novel. So despite the good writing, the story itself was just such a let-down.
– Entertainment Factor –
For me, if I wasn’t experiencing this book as an audiobook, I might not have been able to finish it as soon as I did. This kind of story just is not as entertaining to me. Historical fiction really has to be in an era that I find interesting for me to really click with it. I tend to avoid war-era stories.
Add to that the unlikability of each of the three main characters and I really could not connect with this story as much as I would have liked, which kept me from enjoying the book. It was just an overall very depressing story about three people in an epic love-triangle filled with unhappiness and the story ends just as bleakly. I was left feeling very unsatisfied and very sad, a combo that is not something I want to experience when reading a book.
– Cover Art –
I have to say, the cover is one of the main things that drew me to this book. It is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever come across. Purple is my favorite color, so I’m automatically vibe-ing with it. I love the beautiful shades of purple provided by the different types of flower.
The one thing that I can’t quite figure is how it connects with the story. Maybe if I was more familiar with flowers, I would get some connection? I know that flowers are talked about in the book, but I don’t know if it’s a deep enough connection to warrant that being the cover? Maybe the publishers just wanted something really lush and gorgeous to attract the eye. I mean, I wouldn’t blame them for that.
| My Rating |
Ok, But Not My Cup of Tea
This story had some many things going on in it that both attracted and repelled me. I love reading books about Korean culture and this time period of before, during, and after the Korean War is an interesting time. I was drawn to the effects this war had on the everyday people that people this story. But unfortunately, the story focuses mainly on three people who, to me, are so unlikable and kept me from enjoying the story.
The writing is really well done, and Kim has crafted a really interesting story. The disappointing thing is that she chose to place a love-triangle at the center of this story. I really didn’t care who ended up with who and I didn’t enjoy the back and forth going on. The ending left me feeling like I had suffered through all of that for nothing. It was bleak and depressing and I don’t really know what the point of all the struggle was.
Would I recommend this book?
This is a difficult question to answer for this book. On the one hand, I think many people could enjoy this story if they love reading historical fiction, especially ones that focuses closes on the life of a family. Then again, this story is 400+ pages of love-triangle drama that I don’t think is worth slogging through. So ultimately, I think I’d say that I would recommend this book, mostly because I love being able to promote #ownvoices and Kim’s writing is really exquisite.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading this post. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you have read it or even if you haven’t! If you’re considering reading it, let me know what you think, once you do!