Interview with Author Young-Im Lee

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us about what inspired your novel?
Having spent about 20 years outside of my passport country, I identify as a third culture kid. My parents are Korean and our entire family relocated to Manila, Philippines when I was about one. I spent much of my childhood on the outskirts of Manila where poverty and affluence could be seen side by side. Thinking back, I had an amazing childhood, and certainly a lively one–something I subconsciously missed when I got to Seoul, the big concrete jungle that felt oddly foreign, despite Korea being my “home” country. This novel stems from this sudden change in my life. I have had the chance to live with my grandmother, as well as become part of Korean society and over the past 7 years or so, I have been able to process my childhood and my life as an adult. A major theme in my book is about feeling trapped in our adult lives, as compared to how we imagine our childhood or even the previous generation we often view as having lived in the “good old days.” I channeled these feelings and perhaps even some of my discontent and also my gratitude into this novel that I hoped will be an accurate emotional depiction of modern-day Korea as contrasted with the Korea my grandmother experienced during the Korean War (1950-1953). 
2) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
As much as this book is about South and North Korea, I wrote the novel mainly to highlight the universal human experience of coming-of-age–of war and of love in this fast-changing world we live in. I hope that readers will be able to see past the foreign landscape into the hearts of people who were living each day as it came at a very difficult time in history and understand that despite the passing of time, we live much in the same way and ultimately have very similar desires in life. 
3) What drew you into this particular genre?
Historical Fiction hasn’t always been my favorite genre. I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life reading so-called “classical works’ for university that I must admit, I haven’t had a whole lot of time reading various genres in popular fiction. I have always enjoyed books and films that bring the past and present together and that employ elements of magical realism such as Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. 
4) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
Dae-Gun is a lively and often humorous character with seemingly simple motives. But there were moments while writing this story that showed great depth to his character. As an orphan boy who often finds kinship with people who are not related (and with people who may not find his company appealing), he seems to be a person too keen on making friends and on finding the next meal. However, the sacrifices he is willing to make and the genuine way he treats the people around him is certainly something I aspire to. There is a moment near the end of the story where Dae-Gun is given the chance to run away from the battle-torn Korea (and from the country that has left him an orphan) to follow his friend, Richard, to America. Yet, he doesn’t think twice about staying in Korea. I would love to sit down and ask him what made him decide to stay. I wonder if he ever regretted his decision. I have a feeling it has something to do with a girl; he is, after all, a simple boy. Yet, something tells me he would have given me a surprising answer. 
5) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
There are many formulas out there and advice about how to write the best story and these are all helpful. But my advice is to live your life and do what inspires you. Channel this inspiration into concrete moments (or scenes) that feel real to you. If the moment doesn’t feel real, how can we expect the story in its entirety to feel real to our readers? Keep at it!
6) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I am very excited about what the future holds and this book has been a huge blessing in my life. While I have no immediate plans to publish another novel, this particular novel has opened up opportunities to study postcolonialism in an academic context. I will soon be heading to the States to continue my graduate studies. 
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Forgotten Reflections: A War Story by Young-Im Lee Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A tragic, emotional and powerful story about the reality of war and its impact on both a nation and the everyday people living through that war takes center stage in author Young-Im Lee’s Forgotten Reflections: A War Story. Here’s the synopsis:

In the current international climate where North Korea takes center stage, “Forgotten Reflections” weaves an inspirational tale of family, lost memories, folklore and an unforgotten history, spanning three generations as South Korea rises from the ashes.

DARE TO DREAM IN THE MIDST OF WAR.

1945. Rice fields seem endless in a quaint farming village of South Korea, yet Iseul the villagers have been starving for as long as they can remember. Their Japanese colonizers have taken every last grain with them as they are finally forced out of the Peninsula. In the newly independent Korea, Iseul and Jung-Soo dream of what their future might bring. Yet, war is on the horizon, and Iseul has fallen for an alleged North Korean communist spy.

Men are conscripted and rice is taken to feed the growing army as the Peninsula is thrust into an international war that would determine if the strategic region will become communist or democratic. With nothing but the news of death and hunger awaiting the village of women, children and the aged, Iseul musters up whatever hope she has left to bring the village together to make paper. Soon, the village once known for its rice, becomes famous for its paper, becoming a beacon of hope for their battle-worn soldiers awaiting letters from their loved ones.

Yet spies and communists continue to roam South Korea, turning neighbors and families against one another. For years, Jung-Soo has been suspicious of his father’s allegiances. With a series of mysterious revelations about his father, Jung-Soo is forced to choose between his tainted communist past, and the future he hopes to have with Iseul after the war.

I have to say, this was one of the most emotional stories I’ve read in recent years. The true heartbreak of the impact of war is felt throughout each and every page of this story. Never has a book been more relevant, as the struggle between North and Souther Korea (and the rest of the world) continues to be a constant focus in our world today. The struggle of those innocent soldiers and simple villagers looking to survive made this story have an incredibly huge impact. The relationship between Iseul and Jung-Soo is the emotional core of this tale, and the modern day mystery of what happened to the two friends and romantic partners keeps the reader hanging by every page.

The writing was beautifully done. While the book is a long one, (nearly 600 pages), the story is so enrapturing that you find yourself drawn further and further in. The most impactful thing about this book however is while the setting is incredibly vivid and highlights the struggle of both North and South Korean citizens back during the war, but it shows the affects of war in general. The heartbreak, the tragedy and the impact the constant death and struggle has on both soldiers and citizens alike.

Overall this was an incredible read. Filled with emotional connections you don’t always find in historical fiction and with a lesson on love and trust, this is a must read for any historical fiction fans out there. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read author Young-Im Lee’s Forgotten Reflections: A War Story today!

Rating: 9/10