London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Inheriting the gifts of grief: Brenda Paik Sunoo’s moving memoir

Seaweed and ShamansBrenda Paik Sunoo: Seaweed and Shamans – Inheriting the gifts of grief
Seoul Selection, April 2006

I remember logging this book in my memory sometime in early 2006, having read some advance notice of in, I think, the Seoul Selection weekly email. I didn’t read the small print too closely, and confess I didn’t read the blurb when I was hastily adding this to my basket to bulk out a recent order at Seoul Selection.

When it arrived I discovered that, far from being about shamanism, it’s a very personal account of how a mother came to terms with the unexpected death of her teenage son. Not the sort of thing I would normally pick up to read, but as it’s a slender volume, structured in nibble-sized chapters (ideal for brief tube journeys) I thought I’d give it a chance.

A somewhat unclassifiable book (it’s not really self-help, but it may help people who haven’t been through such a tragedy to acquire a small understanding of the behaviour and emotions of those who have been through something so awful), the individual chapters give tiny, tender snapshots of the son’s life, and of events and scenes after his death, and are punctuated by extracts from the son’s diary or by some of his drawings.

Along the way, we hear of two books which Koreanists might want to follow up on:

  • Quiet Odyssey – A Pioneer Korean Woman in America, written by the Sunoo’s aunt, Mary Paik Lee (available here) and
  • Song of Ariran, by Kim San and Nym Wales (the pen name of Helen Foster Snow), about a Korean patriot and activist in pre-revolutionary China (available at HanBooks, in Korean only)

It’s a book which must have taken a lot of courage to write, and is moving without being over-emotional. The last chapter, a minute-by-minute account of her son’s last day, is the most devastating and moving of all – and must have been the hardest of all to write.

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