“You tricked me.”
These are the opening lines of Samuel Park‘s debut novel, This Burns My Heart, a story that tracks the downward path of a young woman whose dreams are put on an indefinite hold when she marries the wrong man.
The story begins in 1960 Daegu, South Korea, where Soo-Ja Choi leads a life of privilege under her wealthy father. Her lofty dreams of becoming a diplomat, however, have no place in a society bound by traditional ideals, and Soo-Ja is immediately shot down by her father when she suggests that she travel to Seoul alone for her studies. Seeing Soo-Ja at odds with societal expectations, her mother hints that going to Seoul may not be such an impossible idea if she were a married woman traveling with her husband. With this in mind, Soo-Ja pushes forward with her marriage to a man she figures would be most willing to help in this regard, turning down a marriage proposal from a man with whom she is genuinely smitten in the process.
It does not take long for Soo-Ja to realize that she has been ”tricked,” and she finds herself stuck in a suffocating marriage made worse by her selfish in-laws whom gradually demand more and more money from her wealthy father. Endurance is a key theme of This Burns My Heart, as the overwhelming presence of ”what-if” thoughts begin to catch up with Soo-Ja’s hopeless reality.
Even before the novel’s official release, Park was widely praised for his success in the portrayal of a female character. In an interview, the author reveals that Soo-Ja was a character first inspired by his mother, and a marriage proposal she turned down on the day before her wedding to her fiancé. Perhaps because of its deeply personal beginnings, the novel has an ability to make Soo-Ja’s struggles personal for the reader, too: as Soo-Ja repeatedly gives precedence to her role as a daughter, wife, and mother before her own aspirations, the reader also learns to endure the consequences of each sacrifice Soo-Ja makes for her family.
Whether or not one is familiar with motifs of Korean culture, the novel evokes universally identifiable emotions that seem to be at the heart of its success. In his reaction to reading this “deeply felt novel,” Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp writes: “Samuel Park takes us to a time and place that may be foreign to many of us, but the emotion and power of his work are universal.”
Park will be holding readings and signing events in the coming months. Check out his website to see if any of these events are near you.
To buy the book, click here.
[Photo of Samuel Park: Ryan Bakerink]