Book Review: Forgotten Reflections by Young-Im Lee

Forgotten Reflections is by far one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.

The premise is this: Jia, a Korean girl about to graduate from high school and take the national exam, suddenly takes a strong interest in her dying grandmother’s past. The story of Jia’s research is told alongside the actual life of her grandmother, Iseul, in alternating chapters. As it turns out, Granny Iseul played an important though relatively unnoticeable role in the Korean War. As the reader and Jia learn the pieces to Iseul’s story, Jia compares their lives and contemplates whether the nation her Granny and so many others fought for is truly the same as the one she lives in today.

It is impossible to give much more of an introduction/synopsis without revealing any spoilers, but believe me there is more depth to this book than what I have said. The mysteries Jia uncovers in her Granny’s past spiral out in many directions, having far-reaching effects in the lives of many people.

One of the reasons I was eager to read this book is that I know next to nothing about the Korean War. I know that one of my grandfathers was in the Army during it, but I don’t think he ever went overseas. Despite making good grades in the history classes I took in school, I know very little recent history and nothing beyond the basics (if even that) about this time. Additionally, I’ve never read any fiction related to or involving Korean culture, so I was intrigued. I appreciate the brief introduction this book unwittingly gave.

The two alternating story lines weave together nicely. The more the reader learns about Iseul’s past, the more they understand the clues that Jia discovers. It is interesting to compare the two girls, as we see them when they are approximately the same age in very different times and places, within the same culture but separated by enough time to feel out of touch with one another. Because the author does such a good job of wrapping up each section before jumping either backwards or forwards in time, there were several times that I thought I was almost finished with the book, when in reality there was still quite a bit left. That’s the struggle of eBooks, I suppose. However, this book more than others seemed to drag on; I cannot quite pinpoint why, as the story was intriguing and I did always want to know what happened next. It just seemed like it kept going on and on when I should have gotten to the end already.

There were also a few logical leaps within the story that I struggled to follow. For instance, there was an instance where a new character was introduced, and he already seemed to know moderately personal things about the protagonists which I expected would have to be explained. Additionally, I struggled occasionally with the breaks from one perspective to another within a single setting. There were times where a single line break transitioned the reader from one character’s perspective to that of another, which caused me a little confusion and required going back and rereading the lines to make sure I knew what was going on and who was directing the flow of the story at the moment. However, my biggest issue with Forgotten Reflections is the grammar. I do not by any means want to be harsh about this, as I am pretty certain that English is not the author’s first language, but it slowed me down significantly while reading. The story itself was good, and the author’s voice was distinct, but it seemed like the book could use a few more runs through editing. {Edit/update: Since posting the original review, I have found out that there is an updated edition available. While I have not had a chance to look at it myself, I am confident that most of the issues I discuss in this paragraph have likely been revised}

The bottom line of a review is often the most difficult for me. To take an entire novel and boil down all of my thoughts from the reading process into just a few sentences and perhaps a number of stars always requires leaving something out. But, it must be done. I am giving Forgotten Reflections a hesitant three stars, as the story was good but the readability was very difficult. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a casual interest in the history of the Korean War from a civilian perspective, or who would appreciate a tale of historical mysteries alongside one girl’s coming of age.

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