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Not to judge a book by its cover, but how pretty is this one? That said, I recommended it as my 2020 holiday pick even though the hardcover didn't feature this gorgeous illustration. Koh's reflections on language(s) and their relationships to different selves and roles really make this memoir a stand-out. Even-- and perhaps especially-- if you don't gravitate toward nonfiction, this is a MUST-read to see how entire stories come from everyday thoughts and experiences. Our copies have signed bookplates!— From Jae
“A beautifully written memoir of history, culture, past, and present — this might be one of the best books I’ve read all year and a close second to Pachinko, one of my all-time favorites. The letters from a mother read from her daughter’s perspective really give you a sense of the complexity of family relationships, and how certain events mold the consequences of what’s to come. Just beautiful!”
— Desirae Wilkerson, Paper Boat Booksellers, Seattle, WA
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Washington State Book Award in Biography/Memoir
Named One of the Best Books by Asian American Writers by Oprah Daily
The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters in Korean over the years seeking forgiveness and love—letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the loss and destruction her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love?
The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing—in Eun Ji Koh—a singular, incandescent voice.
E. J. Koh is the author of The Magical Language of Others, a Washington State Book Award Winner, Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner, Association of Asian American Studies Book Award Winner, and PEN Open Book Award Longlist. Koh is also the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love, a Pleiades Editors Prize for Poetry Winner. Koh’s work has appeared in AGNI, The Atlantic, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetry, Slate, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Koh earned her MFA at Columbia University, her PhD at University of Washington, and has received the National Endowment of the Arts and MacDowell fellowships. She lives in Seattle, Washington.