Hyperion, Jul 2001, 21.95, 280 pp.
In 1941, Japan invades the Korean Peninsula. In the north, Heisook Pang barely feels the impact of the foreigners and most of that through tales of horror far to the south. Heisook, her brother, their parents, and occasionally a visiting cousin still split their time between Sinuiju and Heavenly Mountain. At the same time in the south, the Japanese are everywhere and even those living in rural sections such as Sei-Young Shin daily feel the domination of the conquered.
When World War II ends, the Cold War immediately moves into the Peninsular. A man-made barrier of hatred suddenly splits families and relatives are no longer able to visit one another across the line. Heisook finds the Communist North quite oppressive especially after her father is taken away. In 1947, she flees to the south knowing she has little to live for anymore in North Korea. At the same time, Sei-Young Shin finds Seoul a thriving place to flourish, soon becoming an accomplished orator for freedom. By 1950, the Communists cross the 38th Parallel and Sei-Young and Heisook have met, fallen in love, and married.
TO SWIM ACROSS THE WORLD is an intriguing literary tale that uses a historical fictionalized account of the parents of the authors as a backdrop to a turbulent decade in Korea. The story line is fantastic as the alternating paragraphs describe what is happening to Sei-Young and Heisook while outside events shape their lives. Genre fans have a winner worth reading and hopefully the Park siblings will continue the family saga with what happened during the following decades.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner