William Morrow | August 2018 | 417 pgs
Source: Library

Set in the 1950s amid the Korean War, this debut novel by Crystal Hana Kim revolves around our three protagonists and the choices they are forced to make during the war times and how it shaped their destinies thereafter. 

Sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, together with her widowed mother and ailing brother, live in a refugee village after their home was invaded by the Communist-backed army from the North. With the grim circumstances and so forth, Haemi finds some solace in her childhood friend, Kyunghwan, as they will meet for some late night drinks and exchange sentiments. Although Kyunghwan has feelings for Haemi, he put his mind on finishing his studies first so he isn't aware that his older cousin, Jisoo, already has his sights set on Haemi. 

As much as Haemi dislike the idea of marrying for security, deep in her heart she knew she has no choice and on top of it, Kyunghwan doesn't seem to have any plans. So Jisoo married Haemi before joining the fight, and Kyunghwan has left Busan to begin a new journey of his own. Haemi by then is a mother to three daughters and while her marriage to Jisoo remains stable, it isn't really a happy and a fulfilling one. What she felt for Jisoo is more towards a feeling of affection than love and at times Haemi will reflect on her decision in choosing him and what would happen if she had chosen Kyunghwan. 

Throughout the years, Kyunghwan remains single and his feelings towards Haemi hasn't changed. His return to Busan sent a ripple in Haemi's once quiet life and though she remains unaffected on surface, she is consumed with guilt as she finds herself still drawn to him. 

If You Leave Me may seem like an ordinary love triangle story, but it is rich in culture and the life of living as refugees set in the war times was well portrayed and heartbreaking. Crystal Hana Kim's writing is beautiful and lyrical, and the characters are fleshed out and relatable. I'd had a few thoughts after finishing the book and I think our three protagonists are all sad victims of war which in turn led to decisions and then more decisions and consequences. This was an absorbing debut novel and I'll be sure to check out Kim's future releases. 

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12 Responses
  1. jenclair Says:

    This sounds good, Melody. I enjoy historical novels that provide insight into the events, cultures, and the individuals who live them. History repeats itself, and so do the stories that result.

  2. jenclair Says:

    Oh, and a postcard is on the way!

  3. Kay Says:

    I think this book sounds very good and rather poignant as well. Putting it on my list as it is different from what I usually read and that's what I'm looking for in the next few months. Thanks, Melody!

  4. Lark Says:

    These kinds of historical fiction novels always interest me because I learn so much about another country and culture. Great review! :)

  5. Verushka Says:

    This sounds heartbreaking -- especially as their decisions were made bc of a war, and it makes you wonder about how different things could have been for thm.

  6. Melody Says:

    Jenclair - I love both the aspect of culture and romance in this historical fiction.

    Will let you know when I got your postcard. :)

  7. Melody Says:

    Kay - Yes, poignant is another word to describe this book. Hope you'll enjoy it if you get to it.

  8. Melody Says:

    Lark - Absolutely, Lark! It's such an eye-opening experience reading about other country and culture even if we don't get to travel in person; and that's one of the wonderful things about reading. :)

  9. Melody Says:

    Verushka - Yes, it was a heartbreaking story and it's all because of the war. So sad.

  10. The Bookworm Says:

    Hi Mel, that is a beautiful cover on this book. The storyline and setting sound interesting as well, especially with the war backdrop, glad you enjoyed it.

  11. Melody Says:

    Naida - That cover is gorgeous, isn't it? It's one reason why I picked it up, aside from the plot and the time period, that is. :)

  12. I have been wanting to read this one and am so glad you enjoyed it, Melody. It sounds like such a poignant read.

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