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If You Leave Me: A Novel

If You Leave Me: A Novel

Written by Crystal Hana Kim

Narrated by Greta Jung and Keong Sim


If You Leave Me: A Novel

Written by Crystal Hana Kim

Narrated by Greta Jung and Keong Sim

ratings:
3.5/5 (69 ratings)
Length:
12 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 7, 2018
ISBN:
9780062849427
Format:
Audiobook

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Description

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they're forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family's makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn't realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman's longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

Publisher:
Released:
Aug 7, 2018
ISBN:
9780062849427
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as ebookEbook

About the author

Crystal Hana Kim holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a contributing editor for Apogee Journal. She has received numerous awards, including PEN America’s Story Prize for Emerging Writers, along with fellowships and support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, among others. Born and raised in New York, she currently lives in Chicago. If You Leave Me is her first novel.


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What people think about If You Leave Me

3.4
69 ratings / 15 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    I wasn’t sure what this book wanted to be. At first it seemed to be a sweeping historical fiction during the Korean War, then turned quickly to a stereotypical love triangle romance (if you are madly In love with your poor childhood friend who thinks you are the smartest person he knows it’s a bad idea to marry his rich cousin who loves you for your looks and can help your family. It’s just going to turn out badly), then the last 1/3 of the book somewhat continues the love triangle but really becomes a pretty serious narrative about post-partum depression and anxiety. I liked that it was told from multiple characters point of view, except my favorite one who seemed the most well-developed character dies halfway through.
  • (3/5)
    This novel begins in 1951 in a refugee village during the Korean War. Haemi is 16 and helps her mother take care of her little brother Hyunki, who struggles with breathing. Her father died laboring in the mines for Japan when Korea was under Japanese rule. Haemi regularly sneaks out at night to get drunk with her best friend Kyunghwan. She and Kyunghwan have feelings for one another, but neither has the nerve to admit it to the other.Kyunghwan has a rich cousin, Jisoo, 18, who is determined to marry Haemi and then enlist. Jisoo is contemptuous of Kyunghwan for not wanting to enlist, but Kyunghwan doesn’t see the point:“I wanted to tell him that I remembered our years under Japanese rule. How we were perpetually hungry, how we weren’t even allowed to speak our own tongue. We had no power in this fight, either. We were pawns, tossed around by Japan, then the Soviets and the United States. I didn’t want to join their cause. And above all, I was too weak, untrained. I would be killed.”Analogously, Kyunghwan, although he loves Haemi, feels he has nothing to offer her either, unlike Jisoo, who could support her.The story moves forward in time and also alternates among a group of narrators. Haemi does marry Jisoo, although she loves Kyunghwan. She tries to love Jisoo instead, but can’t forget Kyunghwan. It becomes even worse for them when Jisoo starts to seek comfort elsewhere. Nevertheless, they have several children.Haemi sees Kyunghwan again after eleven years, and in some ways nothing has changed. Both feel the same, yet constrained by the roles not only determined by convention but by their gender and social class. Tragedy strikes often in the lives of all of these people, but instead of strengthening them, it seems only to make them more despondent, and apt to go looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. There is no redemption, but only anger and frustration. Perhaps, this is a more realistic turn of events than more upbeat stories.Evaluation: This is one unhappy group of people, and I didn’t come to like any of them. But the portrayal of Korean culture is excellent.
  • (4/5)
    This a great debut novel for Crystal Hana Kim. Not only does it take the reader into the Korean Conflict and life in Korea after the war, the three flawed main characters in a painful love story makes the story more poignant. They were “real” people, their actions and final outcomes reflected their personalities and the time in which they lived.
  • (4/5)
    Basically this is a story of a young Korean woman who is in love with a young man and then marries his cousin. Haemi Lee almost grows up with Kyunghwan who is determined to finish an education in spite of the war that is going on in Korea. When Jisoo, Kyunghway's cousin appears to check on his family, he is determined to make the beautiful Haemi his wife. Jisoo offers more security than Kyunghway so she marries him and is determined to learn to love him.Three girls are born to the couple. There are a few happy times but Haemi becomes more and more pessimistic and difficult to be around; she pines for Kyumghway. When he returns there is a short affair and another girl is born. Haemi loves her daughters; Jisoo prospers, but there is never real happiness in the family.I never quite got to like Haemi even at the beginning when she seemed far more enthralled with Kyunghway than he was with her. At times it seems she is better at whining than coping. Although this is set during a time of the Korean War, the war is truly a backdrop and I never really understood what was happening there. Each chapter is told by a different character in a different year from 1952 through 1967.
  • (3/5)
    I was bored and then it finally starting getting interesting about 3/4 of the way through.
  • (3/5)
    "If You Leave Me" is a debut novel set in Korea during 1951-1967. When the story opens, 16-year old Haemi Lee is living in a refugee camp with her mother and invalid younger brother. Restless and bored, she sneaks out at night with a boy named Kyunghwan to drink and have some fun. However, she is also being courted by Kyunghwan's wealthy cousin, Jisoo. Jisoo wants to marry Haemi so he'll have a family waiting for him at home when he returns from the war.The story proceeds over a time of great upheaval for the Korean people. The narrative is split among five first-person views and leaps over periods of time so it can be challenging to stay engaged. The portrayal of Haemi, including the results of the choices she makes, is somewhat moving.
  • (3/5)
    While I appreciated the historical setting and the overall story of If You Leave Me, I was never fully drawn into it. The language and sentiments often felt too contemporary in a way that took me out of the story. It was, however, an easy read and would be a good book for a long airplane ride.
  • (5/5)
    I love this book! I peruse new releases monthly and select my books for the month. I initially passed this one by. I thought it looked like chick lit (not my genre of choice) with its flowery cover. I generally abhor stories about complex love triangles and infidelity. But I could not put this down. It is a complex, well-written story about the burdens of war, family, mental illness, and being a woman and mother in that place and time. If You Leave Me is set in Korea during and after the Korean War. It is IMHO a as good as, but is altogether different from Pachinko and Island of the Sea Women, also set in Korea.
  • (4/5)
    I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.If You Leave Me, Crystal Hana Kim’s debut novel, is set in Korea during the 1950s and 1960s. It follows Haemi Lee and her family and friends as they, along with their entire country, try to make a meaningful life while dealing with forces beyond their control. We first meet Haemi as a sixteen-year-old as she is trying to adapt to a new world caused by war. As the book opens she is trying to live the life of a carefree teenager hanging out with her childhood friend. That childhood is quickly put aside as she becomes a wife, mother, and caregiver to her family. Forced to make decisions based on the needs and expectations of others, Haemi tries to lose herself in this new world. Told in chapters that alternate between all the characters in Haemi’s life, If You Leave Me is written in simple yet wonderfully rich and evocative language. Like her country, Haemi is forced to make choices that, given another world, she would never dream she could make. The story is both sad and hopefully at the same time. Some books are quick reads where you are sucked into the action. The best books are slow reads where you savior the everyday moments the build into a complete story. If You Leave Me definitely falls into the later category. I would strongly recommend this to anyone that enjoys language and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Kim.
  • (4/5)
    Korea is a land of division. The characters in this novel had to flee their home as war came. They live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet.
  • (4/5)
    Beautifully written, evocative of the time and culture, but oh so sad. I just finished reading Pachinko, also set the same time period in Korea, and had the same reaction. I learned so much, but now I know why so many of the Korean films I see leave one weeping-- there's a lot of sorrow that needs releasing.Many thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending me my copy. I love the vibrancy of the cover.
  • (2/5)
    IF YOU LEAVE ME is Kim's first novel, and, unfortunately, it shows. While this tale of everyday Koreans driven from their homes during the war, and the austere conditions of the refugee camps and military hospitals, may eventually develop into a good story, I did not have the patience to keep reading and find out. After slogging through over a hundred-plus pages where nothing much happened to characters I could not warm up to, I'd had enough. The narrative was also marred by numerous awkward similes and metaphors, offered in short, choppy Hemingway-esque sentences. Here are some examples - "... the blood flowing from his mouth like a pond after heavy rain. " "The water slid down my throat like a fish." "Tanks and soldiers swarmed the roads as if they sprouted from the ground." "We were pitiful now, mere husks of ourselves bundled in a presentable form."Sorry. Sounds too much like overly artsy writing workshop prose that would be torn apart by her peers. And I found it just plain off-putting. So enough. Not for me, couldn't finish it and I won't recommend it.- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
  • (4/5)
    The characters and the story rarely went in directions I wanted them to, yet I never lost interest.The Korean War and Korean setting were the main reasons I wanted to try this book since I haven’t read a lot about either that time or that place. While this doesn’t really focus on the frontlines of the war, it does give a strong sense of how it was for the injured and how difficult life was for the displaced families during the war as well as in the aftermath, their struggles emotionally and financially, their hunger, their family members scattered and often lost forever. I felt like this delivered the kind of historic and cultural details that I had hoped to learn about. There is a love triangle which I know a lot of readers dread and this triangle is particularly frustrating, the pair truly in love are constantly thwarted by circumstance and plenty of self-sabotage and alcohol, too, but those thwarted moments, and the attempts to love the one they’re with, the third wheel of the triangle well aware he’s on the outside, that stuff, these characters constantly getting in their own way it is psychologically compelling even if their choices are kind of maddening at times. For the female in the triangle, Haemi, she develops mental health issues that become more and more concerning over the course of the story, and because of the time period, because of her gender, she receives very little understanding including from herself, which it’s tough to see her going through things and no one really making much effort to help her, but that unfortunately does feel realistic.There were a couple times where I wanted to hear a bit more from Jisoo (I understood the basics of his behavior/his reactions still just a little more insight would have been welcome), but otherwise I was really pleased with the POV’s alternating between the three in the triangle and a couple other important voices, I thought it worked well for the story. You’re with the three main characters for a good chunk of their lives so there are several time jumps throughout the book, once in awhile I lost track of certain characters ages, though that minor bit of confusion is worth getting to see these characters progress (and not progress in some ways) from teenagers into adulthood, it’s a scope that I really appreciate. As for the ending, it wasn’t entirely what I’d hoped for but it’s not like it didn’t fit or wasn’t well-executed, it definitely made sense that it would go that way, it was just my heart that didn’t want it to, intellectually, I was fine with it. There were two important characters where I felt like I didn’t quite get the closure I craved, I wanted a few more hints of the direction their futures went in. There were also a handful of other characters whose futures we do get a glimpse of, a glimpse that left me wanting more, perhaps a sequel in their POV’s which would also then answer some of those questions I had about those other two characters.
  • (3/5)
    Young romance, torn apart by war and family expectations. Young Haemi is thrilled to find her great friend Kyunghwon living in the same refugee camp, and their friendship and romance blossoms. In their hometown this might have led somewhere, but it cannot now. Haemi is married to his cousin who then heads to the war. Kyunghwon ends up in the war too, and neither finishes school. Both lead lives that spin out in ways they could never have imagined, and neither is happy.I listened on Hoopla. Greta Jung has a nice voice and was especially good with the small children's voices--I was impressed. Keong Sim did the male voices--he has a magnificent voice, but it was too deep for 16-year-old Kyunghwon and and for Haemi's young brother. His voice was great for the adults.
  • (4/5)
    My biggest exposure to the Korean War was through M*A*S*H. I don't mean this to be funny or tongue in cheek but just to point out that Korea has been rather a blind spot in much of our learning here in the US. So I am always interested when I come across a book that will open up new worlds to me. Crystal Hana Kim's debut novel If You Leave Me, promised to show me a Korea during and post war that I had never seen before, through young characters whose normal lives have been upended and now must make the choice between love and security, survival and uncertainty, in a world not of their own making.Haemi, her widowed mother, and her chronically ill younger brother fled their village home and live in a refugee camp on the coast. Life is hard, food is scarce, and medicine for her brother scarcer. One of the remaining joys of her life is to sneak out at night with her old friend Kyunghwan. She dresses as a boy and they get into mischief. But she is also getting older so not only does she face social disapproval for her antics, but she and Kyunghwan are becoming more and more aware of each other, their love for each other becoming more complicated. At the same time, Kyunghwan's wealthier cousin Jisoo decides to court the lovely Haemi, wanting to ensure that he has a family waiting for him when he returns from fighting in the civil war. Haemi has an impossible choice to make. In the end, she must forsake Kyunghwan and marry Jisoo for all he can offer her, her mother, and brother. But as the years go on, Haemi has to live with her choice and its consequences, as must her children and all those who love her.Set from 1951-1967, the novel is told in chapters narrated by Haemi, Kyunghwan, Jisoo, Haemi's brother Hyunki, and eventually her daughter Solee, all in the first person. The reader sees first hand the bitterness, disappointment, and despair that pervade these characters in so many aspects of their lives. They've all been marked indelibly by the war and their circumstances: soul mates separated, education unobtainable, distant parents, and more. The price of war is far more than just physical. The novel is also broken into five parts between which are gaps in the story's timeline, allowing the characters to move into new situations without the intervening getting there. This does lessen the impact of Haemi's misery some but keeps the reader from having to feel as trapped and depressed in her role as mother and wife as Haemi herself does. She is the character around whom the other characters turn, even if she is not valued as she should be, and her unhappiness colors everything. Each of the characters is flawed and hard in ways that challenge the reader to work past, something that happens with varying degrees of success. Ultimately the story is a heartbreaking one, clear by the end that there was no other possible ending to the story, no other option when life extracts such a high price, requires such a sacrifice.