Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
When a family member goes missing, relatives naturally get worried. But for one Korean-born clan living in suburban Michigan, such an event is understood as an insult to the sacred cultural tradition of family togetherness. According to the elaborate ancestral folklore that Catherine Chung weaves throughout her novel Forgotten Country
(Riverhead), college-age daughter Hannah's defection to California is in keeping with an ancient curse—that one daughter per generation must go missing. Hannah's older sister, Janie, a graduate student in mathematics, sees things more simply: Hannah is just an ingrate, disrespectful of family and centuries-old beliefs. When those beliefs are tested in the wake of their father's terminal diagnosis, so, too, are the girls' rigidly defined family roles. And once the family returns to its homeland, the daughters unearth difficult truths about their parents' pasts, as Chung indelibly portrays a Korea viciously divided but ever bound to history, myth, and hope.
— Celia McGee