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House of the Winds is a stirring portrait of a family whose lives have been deeply affected by the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. In episodic and dreamlike prose, the narrator shares stories and memories of those around her: her feckless, mostly absent father; her lonely, loving mother who tells her daughter that butterflies are the souls of napping children; her gossiping neighbors; and the ghosts of weeping women that haunt their house.
This extraordinary novel allows us to see how Korean women "lived in the folds of history ... laughing, wailing, spirit-cajoling, poetry-writing, tear-hiding, bosom-bracing, scheming, fire-breathing". Vivid, sensuous, permeated by beautiful images and by the mysteries that define a child's world, House of the Winds is a moving tale of awakening.
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A book's life, I think, begins long before a single sentence gets to be written. It is a mysterious process. It often begins with an idea or an image that flashes through your mind. And unlike the others, this particular image or idea somehow takes root and sprouts a leaf or two. And it grows into a leafy tree! House of the Winds began like that for me. The particular image from which the book germinated was a very vivid one. It is the image that always came to me whenever I thought of my childhood in Korea. I am not sure but it has to be the earliest memory of mine as it seems to precede all other bits of memory I have. And yet, it is the clearest memory I have. In fact, it's so clear, I often feel like I am right there, standing with my mother in the middle of the sunny cabbage patch behind the little house of ours in Seoul. It is a sunny
spring afternoon. The sunlight is so phosphorous - it's like fine gold powder let loose from a bottle - I can almost grab it. And the white butterflies are still there, hovering over the cabbages in white bloom. It was the one perfect, blissfully happy moment every child has, although too fleetingly. I made it the beginning of the book. A little girl standing in a sparkling, sun-soaked world her mother created behind their small, wooden baby blue gate. It was a bright and dreamy
world of flowers, starched clothes, waxed floors and made-up stories. Before the girl began to discover the stories of women and Korea. Growing up in Korea was like a long story session. Women spilled stories and tears. It seemed there wasn't a woman whose life hadn't been touched by some sort of tragedy. It was the 60s and 70s and Korea was still recovering from the trauma of the long and harsh
Japanese rule and the devastating Korean War. Some stories I remember and most I don't but it must have been these stories that from an early age made me feel so deeply for these sad but strong women. They made me think about what it meant to be a girl, a daughter, a wife, a mother in a deeply Confucian Korea. And part of a family. For Korean women even at the time didn't quite exist outside the context of family. Of course, House of the Winds, like most fiction, comes from my own distilled experience but I was also drawing upon the trove of the uniquely Korean experience: historical as well as mythical. As I mentioned, it began with a very vivid image from my early childhood. Then it went from there. In the first chapter, I wanted to capture the first moment when the outside world intrudes upon a child's perfect one. Sometimes, it comes in a single shattering jolt, but here they come in successive little incidents. It first takes the form of inexplicable sadness the child feels when she sees her mother's embroidered blouse run colors in the rain. Then one day, she scoots out after her brother to the street corner where a doctor's beautiful wife was murdered on a stifling summer night. Soon the garrulous Pumpkin Wife enters her house with stories and the word "father," making the girl "a child with questions." The child's perfect world is punctured. The girl realizes that her mother -- whom she thought was perfectly happy with her children behind the blue gate -- might not be. House of the Winds is crowded with women who lived in a Korea that no longer exists. I was their exorcist of sorts. I wanted to tell their stories. But ultimately, I was drawing a portrait of a Korean family that is at once unique but also immediately familiar. I remember instantly recognizing the worlds and their emotional maps when I read books like Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, even though geographically and culturally, they couldn't be more apart from one another. They all struck a cord in me that all human beings must share. This is what I hoped to achieve.About the Author:
Mia Yun was born in Korea and came to the United States as a graduate student. She has worked as a reporter and a freelance writer and is now the Korea correspondent for the re-launched Evergreen Review. She received her MFA in creative writing from City College of New York.
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