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The Magical Language of Others (Tin House)
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 horrors 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? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.
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.
Praise for The Magical Language of Others
“Koh’s book is a tremendous gift. We’re so fortunate to have this literary reckoning from a tremendously talented writer. The Magical Language of Others is a wonder.” — The San Francisco Chronicle
“The Magical Language of Others is a masterpiece, a love letter to mothers and daughters everywhere.” — Shelf Awareness, Starred Review
“E.J. Koh’s The Magical Language of Others grapples with intergenerational loss and love between mothers and daughters across time, war, and immigration. Koh’s painful journey is bridged by her mother’s letters, which she translates, unfolding the language of mothering and tenderness. Koh remarkably and beautifully translates the language of mothers as the language of survivors.” — Don Mee Choi, author of Hardly War
“A coming-of-age story, a family story, and a meditation on language and translation, with an emotional range to match.” — Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations
E. J. Koh is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others and the poetry collection A Lesser Love, winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize. Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and World Literature Today, among others. She earned her MFA in Literary Translation and Creative Writing from Columbia University, and is completing the PhD program at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a recipient of The MacDowell Colony and Kundiman fellowships.
Alexander Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, all from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and an editor at large at VQR. His essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, The Sewaneee Review, The Yale Review, and Guernica, among others, and anthologized in the 2016 and 2019 Best American Essays. He is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.