A moving, accomplished debut.
At its heart is a love triangle. There is Haemi, 16. The war has forced her, her mother and sickly younger brother, out of their village and into a refugee camp. There is Kyunghwan. They sneak out together late nights on his bicycle, looking for makgeolli to get drunk with. Jisoo is Kyunghwan’s cousin, he’s more well-off than Kyunghwan and wants to marry Haemi before he enlists.
Haemi eventually marries him, as she feels Jisoo is the best way to ensure that her family is secure, but her decision to forsake Kyunghwan continues to affect her – and her family – through the years.
I loved how Kim effortlessly weaves historical events through the story – the aftermath of the Korean War.
Haemi’s story continues to echo in my head even after finishing the book. She’s not an easy character to like as she struggles to accept this life that she chose. But I appreciate that Kim doesn’t turn her life into a bright shiny happy one and instead leaves the reader wondering, would she really be happier if she had chosen otherwise?
If you’ve read some of my book thoughts on my blog/Instagram, you may know that I’m always interested in books that feature food and If You Leave Me will make you hungry for Korean food. While I do love eating at Korean restaurants, I learnt a lot about Korean food that aren’t found in Korean restaurants here, such as steamed silkworm pupae, hotteok (a sweet pancake with brown sugar and walnuts), tea made with persimmon leaves.