A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language―of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice.
After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji’s parents return to Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in the family’s new California home. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself in a world made strange in her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters over the years seeking forgiveness and love―letters Eun Ji cannot understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
The letters lay bare the impact of her mother’s departure, as Eun Ji gets to know the woman who raised her and left her behind. Eun Ji is a student, a traveler, a dancer, a poet, and a daughter coming to terms not only with her parents’ prolonged absence, but her family’s history: her grandmother’s Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre. Where, Koh asks, 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?
The Magical Language of Others is a fearless and poetic mind grappling with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma―conjuring an epic saga and love story between mothers and daughters spanning four generations.
E. J. Koh is the author of 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.