On the night Janie waits for her sister Hannah to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.
Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement. Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.
©2012 Catherine Chung. All rights reserved.; 2012 AudioGo
Almost everything disappointed me about this novel. I rarely fail to be engaged by a book, but I cared nothing about the characters, their challenges, their goals, their present or past or future. It was agonizingly repetitive and drawn out.
By selecting another narrator. For some unfathomable reason, the narrator chose to portray the main male character (the father) in a voice that was pitched 2 octaves higher than any of the female characters. Worst narrator I think I've encountered in my audible.com history
I only struggled through it because I had no other book to listen to at the moment.
Coffee and a Book Chick
I really wanted to like this. Turns out, I am extremely upset by the fact that I just did not. I'm harsh, but I can't sugarcoat. Usually, if I don't like something, I'll keep my comments honest but brief. In this case, I'm more comfortable bluntly expressing my dissatisfaction.
Lately, I have been drawn to more diverse authors and story lines, and that's probably as a result of recent BEA sloppiness in selections for author panels. Forgotten Country, for all its promise in synopsis, just didn't meet the mark for me, and for several reasons. I tried to isolate if it was the story itself, the narrator, or both, and I'm confident it came down to both, but primarily the narrator. Reader be warned: Keep in mind that this is MY opinion only. Another listener/reader may connect with this much better than I did. I encourage you to Google the book and you'll find that most reviews are highly flattering, but I would cautiously recommend that it's likely a book better read than listened to. Always do your research to get a more well-rounded overview. For me, I just feel let down.
The promise in the story lies in the description which immediately pulled me in. "On the night Janie waits for her sister Hannah to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe." Curiously intriguing, especially when you know that Hannah does eventually disappear from the family.
There are two levels to this story. At its surface, two first generation Korean-American sisters come to America at a young age and later on, the older sister must find the younger sister who has disappeared. Both are now in college, but the younger sister's disappearance occurs at the most crucial time for the family, as the father has developed cancer and the prognosis is devastating. Traveling back to Korea to get treatment that isn't being done in the States is the only solution, so Janie and her parents leave without Hannah. It becomes Janie's responsibility to find Hannah and bring her to her father.
At the core of it is a complex and rather naive battle of ignorance, nonchalance, mostly laziness, particularly on the main character, Janie's, part. I must admit I was the most frustrated with her complete lack of common sense, not to mention her inability to just do what was right, instead of always layering ridiculous rationalizations, one after another. If I had to create a metaphor for this: Was she in a car, strapped in and always idling in neutral? When she would make a decision, it was always in the wrong direction, but again and again, she piled on excuses that even she knew were false, but it didn't matter. She still did it. Or didn't do it. In fact, the story felt like it came down to a series of moments in which Janie questions herself: Should I, shouldn't I; would I, could I; the end. That's the crux of it and I can't be plainer about it. There was so much more that I wanted. And for those who have read it, what was that random thing with her adviser? Huh?
But I wonder if the story itself, which most reviewers who read the book enjoyed, was lost in the audio experience. Would I have read it differently, applying a voice that didn't always sound so jumbled and confused? The narrator just didn't live up to initial expectations. The biggest annoyance was that she chose a voice for the father, a man with a courageous backstory, at a pitch so much higher than even his own daughters had when they were younger. He sounded perplexed, confused, pathetically hopeful, and ultimately weak. Honestly, with what he had to deal with throughout life, I expected a much stronger and thoughtful voice, who only becomes weakened by cancer, but still maintains his fortitude. I don't know why he was voiced in such a high, feminine tone. Come to think of it, I would have been annoyed even if a woman was voiced in this same pitch.
All in all, it could have been an interesting tale. Reflecting back on it now, I think I would have been much more interested in the story told from the perspective of the parents, instead of the annoying older daughter. I was fascinated with the history in Korea when her parents were younger and found them to be the most important characters. However, the father's voice would chime in and it was so high-pitched, I had to steel myself to continue to listen.
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