Translated by: Kim Chi-young
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 2019.
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Historical fiction, based on true events, about two women who seem the most unlikely to ever meet: Alice, a Korean war survivor and translator for the American forces in Seoul, and Marilyn Monroe, who is visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour.
February 1954. Although the Korean War armistice was signed a year ago, most citizens of Seoul still battle to return to some semblance of normalcy. Conditions are dismal. Children beg for food, and orphanages are teeming. Alice J. Kim, a Korean translator and typist for the American forces still sanctioned in the city, yearns for the life she used to live before her country was torn apart.
Then Alice’s boss makes an announcement—the American movie star Marilyn Monroe will be visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour, and Alice has been chosen as her translator. Though intrigued, Alice has few expectations of the job—what could she and a beautiful actress at the peak of her fame possibly have to talk about? Yet the Marilyn she meets, while just as dazzling and sensual as Alice expected, is also surprisingly approachable.
As Marilyn’s visit unfolds, Alice is forced into a reckoning with her own painful past. Marilyn and Me (US title: The Starlet and the Spy) is a portrayal of unexpected kinship between two very different women, and of the connections that can change, or even save, a life.
The narrative recreates well the breakneck and exhausting pace of a multi-stop entertainment tour, introducing relevant historical detail like the meeting with actress Choi Eun-hee, and credibly depicts the growing bond between the two central characters. But outside of that central relationship and the glamour of Marilyn in Korea, there’s too much else crammed into the novel for me to find it enjoyable.
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