Year of Impossible Goodbyes
Year of Impossible Goodbyes

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Annotation: A young Korean girl survives the oppressive Japanese and Russian occupation of North Korea during the 1940s, to later escape to freedom in South Korea.
Catalog Number: #336692
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Publisher: Dell Yearling
Copyright Date: 1991
Edition Date: 1993
Pages: 169 p.
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-440-40759-1 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-7024-9
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-440-40759-1 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-7024-8
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 91010502
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
There's drama but no romantic adventure in this autobiographical novel about a child in war-torn North Korea--first, under Japanese military oppression; then, after 1945, under Russian occupation; and, finally, on the run across the border. The last third of the book is the most gripping, as 10-year-old Sookan, her little brother, Inchun, and their mother flee from their town to try and reach Sookan's father in South Korea. Their guide turns out to be a double agent, and their mother is captured. The two children wander alone through the rain and mud of the rice paddies, filthy, hungry, bruised, sobbing. A few adults help them and show them the way past the dogs and searchlights. To cross the tracks, Sookan and Inchun crawl under a train while it's in the station. To cross a rushing river, they drag themselves across the rungs of a dangerous railway bridge. They tear their backs on the frontier barbed wire. Choi communicates the overwhelming physical experience of these once-protected small children, who find themselves suddenly alone. We feel their dazed terror, their exhaustion and weakness, as well as the astonishing determination that somehow gets them across. A good book to recommend with the Holocaust refugee stories and with Watkins' So Far from the Bamboo Grove , about a Japanese girl's flight from Korea after the war. (Reviewed Sept. 15, 1991)
Horn Book
Born during the thirty-six-year Japanese occupation of Korea, ten-year-old Sookan has known no other life. When the equally oppressive Russians drive out the Japanese, Sookan, her brother, and their mother must flee and undertake a harrowing journey south to the safety of the thirty-eighth parallel. A moving account, with many poignant, vivid moments.
Kirkus Reviews
A moving fictionalized account of Choi's last months as a child in Pyongyang under the brutal Japanese rule that oppressed Korea for more than 30 years before 1945, and her harrowing escape with her seven-year-old brother south across the 38th parallel. <p> A moving fictionalized account of Choi's last months as a child in Pyongyang under the brutal Japanese rule that oppressed Korea for more than 30 years before 1945, and her harrowing escape with her seven-year-old brother south across the 38th parallel. Choi describes the Japanese persecution in an even tone that makes it even more chilling: deliberate destruction of everything of value or beauty, even Grandfather's favorite pine tree; interdiction of religions other than Shinto and of the Korean language; indoctrination of children; systematic starving of the population; the forcing of young women to serve as ``spirit girls'' for the Japanese troops' pleasure. Despite all, Choi's family preserved dignity, familial love, and loyalty to their heritage. When the Russians arrived (not the hoped-for Americans), they proved less vicious but even more effective propagandists than the Japanese. Choi's father, who had spent the war in Manchuria, arranged an escape that was partially successful, even though their guide turned out to be a double agent: the two children, who had already demonstrated their intelligence and mettle, made their way on their own after their mother was detained (miraculously, she joined them later); other relatives left behind to cover for them were executed in retribution. A vividly written, compellingly authentic story that complements Yoko Watkins's fine So Far from the Bamboo Grove (1986), which details a Japanese family's suffering en route from Korea to Japan during the same period. (Fiction. 11+)*justify no*</p> "
Publishers Weekly
In 1945, 10-year-old Sookan's homeland of North Korea is occupied by the Japanese. Left behind while her resistance-fighter father hides in Manchuria and her older brothers toil in Japanese labor camps, Sookan and her remaining family members run a sock factory for the war effort, bolstered only by the dream that the fighting will soon cease. Sookan watches her people--forced to renounce their native ways--become increasingly angry and humiliated. When war's end brings only a new type of domination--from the Russian communists--Sookan and her younger brother must make a harrowing escape across the 38th parallel after their mother has been detained at a Russian checkpoint. Drawn partly from Choi's own experiences, her debut novel is a sensitive and honest portrayal of amazing courage. In clear, graceful prose, she describes a sad period of history that is astonishing in its horror and heart-wrenching in its truth. Readers cannot fail to be uplifted by this account of the triumph of the human spirit in an unjust world. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-- Ten-year-old Sookan tells of her Korean family's experiences during the Japanese occupation as World War II ends. The Japanese commit cruel, fear-provoking acts against this proud, hopeful family and against the young girls who worked in a sweatshop making socks for the Japanese army. Relief, hope, and anticipation of the return of male family members after the Japanese defeat is short lived as the Russians occupy the country, bringing their language, their customs, and communism to the village. Equally as insensitive to the pride and possessions of the Koreans, they are as bad as the Japanese. Plans are made for Sookan, her mother, and younger brother to escape to South Korea. However, their guide betrays them, causing the children to be separated from their mother, and the two begin a daring and frightening journey to cross the 38th parallel to safety. Through Sookan, the author shares an incredible story of the love and determination of her family, the threatening circumstances that they endured during occupations by two totalitarian governments, and the risks they took to escape to freedom. Readers will get a double bonus from this book--a good story, well told, and the reaffirmation of our faith in the human spirit against incredible adversities . -- Lydia Champlin, Beachwood City Schools, OH
Word Count: 45,897
Reading Level: 5.6
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.6 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 6638 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.6 / points:10.0 / quiz:Q12882
Lexile: 840L
Guided Reading Level: W
Fountas & Pinnell: W

It is 1945, and courageous ten-year-old Sookan and her family must endure the cruelties of the Japanese military occupying Korea.  Police captain Narita does his best to destroy everything of value to the family, but he cannot break their spirit.  Sookan's father is with the resistance movement in Manchuria and her older brothers have been sent away to labor camps.  Her mother is forced to supervise a sock factory and Sookan herself must wear a uniform and attend a Japanese school.



Then the war ends.  Out come the colorful Korean silks and bags of white rice.  But Communist Russian troops have taken control of North Korea and once again the family is suppressed.  Sookan and her family know their only hope for freedom lies in a dangerous escape to Americancontrolled South Korea.



Here is the incredible story of one family's love for each other and their determination to risk everything to find freedom.


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