Korean history captured in fictionAspiring writers are often advised to “write what you know.” It’s a good starting point, but J.K Rowling, George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien clearly had other ideas, unless they’re not telling us something.
Perhaps it’s better to say “write what you love,” which is certainly the game plan for Korean-American author Linda Sue Park, whose latest novel, “Keeping Score,” is published this month by Clarion.
“I had twin sources of inspiration for the book: I wanted to learn more about the Korean War, and I love baseball,” said Park in an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Daily last week. “It’s been really fun for me to watch the progress of the Korean players who have made it to the major leagues here in the U.S.”
Keeping Score is set in Brooklyn , in the early to mid-1950s.
“Maggie Fortini is a die-hard fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jim, a family friend, teaches Maggie how to keep score of a baseball game. Then Jim is drafted into the army and assigned to serve in the Korean War,” Park said.
“Maggie continues to follow her beloved Dodgers, but in her concern for Jim, she also tries to learn as much as she can about the war. So it’s a baseball story that morphs into a war story.”
Park specializes in historical fiction for children set in Korea. She won the prestigious Newbery Medal for “A Single Shard” (2001), a story about a determined orphan called Tree-ear who learns to make pottery in 12th-century Korea.
The author has also tackled Japanese colonial rule in Korea in “When My Name Was Keoko” (2002); family traditions and sibling rivalry in the early part of the Joseon Dynasty in “The Kite Fighters” (2000), and the life of a curious young girl who yearns to see beyond the high walls of her home in 17th-century Korea in “Seesaw Girl” (1999).
“Historical fiction gives us the chance to explore what it means to be human,” Park said.
“Daily life has changed, mores have changed ― but what hasn’t changed? Could that be the beginning of a discussion about what defines humanity?”
The story of the two brothers in The Kite Fighters for instance is timeless, she suggested. Kee-sup is the older one but his younger brother Young-sup is a better kite flyer. During the New Year kite competition when only the firstborn son can represent the family, their father says Kee-sup should fly the kite, causing tension in the family.
“What I love most about kite flying is its enduring nature,” Park said. The materials for building a kite might change over time, but the basics are forever and everywhere: a kite and a line. “This means kite flying enables us to make an instant connection across time and space,” she said.
This same theme resonates in Khaled Hosseini’s evocative first novel “The Kite Runner” (2003), whose movie adaptation opened in Korea this week.
“When a kid flies a kite today, he or she is experiencing the exact same thing that Young-sup felt centuries ago, or Hosseini’s characters, thousands of miles away,” Park said.
Even though Park’s characters are from the past, she said her readership responds to them with a sense of familiarity, especially their imperfections.
“My readers are at the age where they’re beginning to figure out the world for themselves,?as opposed to?simply accepting without question the ideas of the adults around them. Most of all, they’re learning that life simply isn’t fair,” she said.
Park was born in 1960 and grew up in the United States. She worked as a journalist, a teacher and in public relations before publishing her first novel in 1999.
She tours extensively, giving readings and discussing her books with her readers.
For more about the author’s work, visit www.lindasuepark.com.
By Michael Gibb Features Editor [email@example.com]