I know many of us are drawn to covers. I certainly am. When I saw this particular one and then read the synopsis, I knew it was a must-read. Publishing on August 7 by William Morrow, If You Leave Me is set in the 1950s during the Korean War.
As children, Haemi and Kyunghwan were friends, but when the pair find themselves teens in a refugee camp along with their families and living under dire circumstances, a small spark is ignited as they spend a couple hours each night on the fringes of danger.
Kyungwhan is entrenched in his schooling and has no idea his wealthy cousin, Jisoo, is making plans to marry Haemi. A life with Jisoo would offer financial security, comfort, and proximity to her mother and brother, and for those reasons, Haemi sacrifices her feelings for Kyunghwan in order to protect her family.
The story follows as Haemi becomes a wife and mother, and there comes a time when she reflects on her choosing Jisoo, and the ripple effects of that one choice will impact much more than she ever could have foreseen.
If You Leave Me is a richly drawn novel from multiple viewpoints. The narrators are Haemi and the men who love her, Kyunghwan and Jisoo, and later, we hear from Haemi’s brother, Hyunki, and Solee, Haemi’s daughter. The multiple narratives helped me to learn about each of the characters through the eyes of the others. Complex, well-developed characterization is the star of the show with a vividly depicted backdrop of not just Korea during the war, but over time with modernization and changes within these characters’ lives. I felt fully immersed in Korean culture.
Overall, I found If You Leave me to be an engrossing, tragic, and heartbreaking tale of forbidden love and how one decision can have a lasting imprint for more than a lifetime.
Thank you to William Morrow for the complimentary ARC. All opinions are my own.
An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that continues to haunt us today
When the communist-backed army from the North invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.
Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.
Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.
Have you read this book, or do you plan to? Have you read any books set in Korea/North or South Korea? Happy Reading! ~ Jennifer THR