This Burns My Heart

  • Writer
    Samuel Park
  • Country
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - English and American literatures - Fiction


In this compelling love story set in postwar Korea in the 1960s, an unhappily married woman struggles to give her daughter a good life and to find love in a society caught between ancient tradition and change.

Beautiful and ambitious, Soo-Ja Choi attempts to find happiness in a land where wives have no rights and mothers own nothing, where love remains elusive, and the only way to survive is to live the lessons of Confucian tradition: perseverance, strength, loyalty, and grace. Charting her way through an ill-advised marriage, Soo-Ja must navigate the intrigue and dangers of living with her conniving in-laws, all the while longing for her true love of the past, the elusive Doctor Yul. And when he enters her life again, Soo-Ja is confronted with a final chance at happiness, but must make a mother's ultimate choice.

Epic and intimate, Park's debut offering--based on his own mother's story--is a snapshot of a nation rising from a poor, rural country into a major world power in the aftermath of a devastating war. This Burns My Heart evokes a strong sense of place and era reminiscent of Sarah Waters, and the richly drawn characters and exploration of women's changing roles brings to mind Lisa See.



  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 16, 2011
    An unflappable heroine anchors Park's epic post–Korean War love story (after Shakespeare's Sonnets). Having grown up in a privileged home in Daegu, Soo-Ja, a brilliant and ambitious 22-year-old woman, has dreams of being a diplomat in Seoul. After her father refuses to let her leave home, however, she sets out to find and marry a weak man who will allow her to make her own decisions. The first candidate is Min, a young revolutionary, who pursues her from afar, writing her letters from Seoul, one of which puts her on a path to meet a charismatic student leader, Yul. Although her feelings for Yul are strong, she marries Min and is immediately faced with the cold realities of his corrupt and hateful family and the realization that she isn't any closer to getting to Seoul. Her responsibilities and, soon, a daughter, keep her trapped in a loveless marriage as she longs for Yul, now a doctor, and a better life. But this is no quiet tale of yearning: the plot kicks in with an unexpected fierceness, and the ensuing action—a kidnapping, fist fights, blackmail—make for a dramatic, suck-you-in chronicle of a thrilling love affair.


  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2011

    A captivating debut novel from Chicago-based author Park.

    Soo-Ja is the bright and beautiful daughter of a hardworking factory owner in Daegu, South Korea. The nation is still recovering from the ravages of the Peninsula War, and the regime of Syngman Rhee is on its last legs, but tradition still holds sway. Women marry and serve the needs of their husband's family. Soo-Ja has a suitor, handsome Min, a dabbler in the student demonstrations against Rhee's oppression, but she also has an opportunity to study for the foreign service. Her father insists her duty is to marry, and Soo-Ja has Min's promise to move to Seoul so that she can become a diplomat. A marriage is arranged, but Min has lied. He refuses to leave his autocratic father. Soo-Ja immediately regrets declining a last-minute proposal from an intense young medical student, Yul. Stoically, Soo-Ja fulfills her duty, which from a Western point of view is that of a housekeeper and servant for her in-laws. Soo-Ja's first child is a girl, much to the regret of Min's family, a situation worsened when Soo-Ja refuses to have another child. Min's father mismanages his business into financial ruin, borrows money from Soo-Ja's father and flees to America with his family. Soo-Ja, Min and daughter Hana are left behind in shame. Park's novel can be read as a contemplation of loss and the angst of unrequited love, much like Dr. Zhivago. Soo-Ja and Yul encounter each other in Pusan and later in Seoul, where Soo-Ja is managing a hotel. Readers will be intrigued as Soo-Ja breaks from tradition to take control of her destiny, an emotionally charged personal drama played out against the backdrop of energetic South Korea as it transitions from a war-torn and oppressed country into a prosperous modern nation.

    Protagonist Soo-Ja's story will enthrall in this first-rate literary effort.




  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2011

    Set in postwar South Korea, where tradition is challenged by the eye-blinking changes erupting from a rapidly evolving modernity, Park's (Shakespeare's Sonnets) novel is essentially a triangulated love story involving wealthy and stunning Soo-Ja, who dreams of becoming a diplomat in a brave new world; the weak-willed lothario she marries; and the good doctor she lets go. For the sake of her beloved daughter, Soo-Ja chastely endures her suffocating marriage, which is exacerbated by the manipulations of her greedy father-in-law. "Chamara," the devastated would-be lover tells her, "[t]o stand it, to bear it," a sentiment commingled with the empathy of his agonizing, "This burns my heart, too." VERDICT Inspired by the life of Park's mother, to whom the book is dedicated, this novel has the added gravitas of being embellished truth. It will surely claim a popular spot on the ever-growing shelves of sweeping historical titles starring long-suffering heroines in faraway locales, from Lisa See's Shanghai Girls to Eugenia Kim's more recent The Calligrapher's Daughter. Readers in search of more substantial Korean/Korean American reads might try Kyung-sook Shin's Please Look After Mom, Sonya Chung's Long for This World, or Chang-Rae Lee's The Surrendered. [See Prepub Alert, 12/20/10.]--Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.