Describe your book in one sentence.
A young woman marries the wrong man and learns to live with the consequences of that choice.
What was your reaction when you found out your first novel would be published?
My heart started beating a little faster, and I made a series of phone calls, in rapid succession: first, to my mother; then, to my best writer friend; then, to my friend who inspired me to start writing fiction. I used many exclamation marks in my voice. The part of the day I remember the most, though, was actually the seconds right before I got the news, when I saw my agent’s number flashing on my cell phone. We never speak on the phone, so that was the moment I knew.
“Lizzie Bennet’s early refusal of Darcy greatly resonated with me, as I pondered the permanence of choice. What if she hadn’t been able to undo that so easily?”
Name one book you think everyone should read, and why.
Pride and Prejudice. While Austen is still—wrongly—considered by some parochial and limited in her scope, I do think her books contain a panoramic view of society, if not the entire world: social climbing, parental and romantic love, foolish and clever people and that incredible alchemy of emotions and tensions that happen when you put two lovers together in a room. Lizzie Bennet’s early refusal of Darcy greatly resonated with me, as I pondered the permanence of choice. What if she hadn’t been able to undo that so easily? I like to think of my own novel as Pride and Prejudice in South Korea.
“I think every great love, but especially unrequited love, is a secret to some extent. And secrets make you particularly vulnerable.”
Your main character, Soo-Ja, is married to one man and in love with another. What do you think is most interesting about unrequited love stories? Do you have a personal favorite literary love story?
Unrequited love has a purity and intensity that lends itself to a dramatic, conflict-ridden story. Because you don’t have the lover, you have to either try to get to the lover, or try to work through your feelings for the lover. This means lots of external and internal conflict. It also means you have a secret, and I think every great love, but especially unrequited love, is a secret to some extent. And secrets make you particularly vulnerable. One my favorite literary love stories, aside from Lizzie and Darcy, is Dr. Zhivago, which was one of my inspirations—I liked the idea of setting an intimate love story against a dramatic, historical background.
Can you tell us about your next project?
My next novel is about a mother and a daughter relationship. It’s very different from This Burns My Heart in the sense that it’s contemporary, and set in America. But it’s still going to deal with a lot of strong emotions.