CAREER: Author, reporter, translator, and freelance writer. Evergreen Review, Korea correspondent.
House of the Winds, Interlink Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Translations of Beauty, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Mia Yun was born in South Korea and lived there until immigrating to the United States, where she has worked as a journalist, translator, and freelance writer. In an interview for Seattle Contemporary Review of Asian American Literature Online, Yun stated that, after telling her Korean teacher that she wanted to be a writer, he "kindly wrote me back saying that I should do three things a lot if I were to become a great writer. Read a lot, think a lot and write a lot. He couldn't have given me better advice."
Yun's literary aspirations began in Korea at an early age. In an online chat session on iVillage.com, Yun stated, "I think growing up in Korea as a child was like a long story session. Women spilled stories and tears." Yun admitted in her Seattle Contemporary Review of Asian American Literature Online interview that these experiences "made me a very sympathetic and sharp observer of women in peril. In fact, I became a feminist long before I ever heard of the word." On iVillage.com Yun also observed that, "at a very young age, I began to feel so deeply for these sad but strong women. I began to think about what it meant to be a girl, a daughter, a wife, a mother in a deeply Confucian Korea. I wanted to tell their stories. I was their exorcist of sorts."
In Yun's novel House of the Winds, a woman struggles to raise her children in a Korea devastated by Japanese occupation and war. The narrator, Kyung-a, is the youngest of three children. Abandoned by their father, the children and their mother face poverty and deprivation in a country already poor in resources. With hard work, Kyung-a's mother provides food, clothing, shelter, and education, but she also provides something more: a legacy of rich storytelling and cultural identity. Kyung-a becomes a storyteller herself and records the history and dreams of her mother and the other women around her. "Through these stories we catch a glimpse of a culture being transformed by war, religion, and the growing influence of America," commented Nalini Iyer in the International Examiner. "The tension between the adult narrator's Westernized world view and the Korean women's lives that she records is the most fascinating element of this novel." Library Journal reviewer Janis Williams noted that Yun's book is "eloquently written in language that is both metaphorical and poetic." Booklist critic GraceAnne A. DeCandido also praised House of the Winds, stating that "this is a novel full of beautiful and vivid description."
Yunah and Inah, the twin Korean girls who are the focus of Translations of Beauty, are lovely, but an accident when the girls are four years old leaves Inah with terrible burn scars on her face. Their parents believe that life in the United States will provide better opportunities for Inah, sparing her the outcast life she would endure in Korea. They settle in Flushing, Queens, where their father works in his uncle's trading company. Eventually, Yunah travels to visit with Oxford University dropout Inah, now in Italy. The two spend most of their visit fighting, but slowly realize the depth of the emotional pain both have felt since childhood.
"Sibling rivalry can last for years, of course, and the closer the bond the greater the turmoil," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic in a review of Translations of Beauty. Booklist reviewer Deborah Donovan called the novel "a memorable portrayal, imbued with Yun's poetic handling of this family's unfulfilled dreams and joyless compromises." Shirley N. Quan, writing in Library Journal, dubbed Yun's book "a touching story of love, family, identity, and determination," concluding that the author has created "an emotionally reflective piece to which many will relate."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of House of the Winds, p. 201; May 1, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of Translations of Beauty, p. 549.
International Examiner, April 30, 1999, Nalini Iyer, review of House of the Winds, p. 9.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Translations of Beauty, p. 299.
Library Journal, October 1, 1998, Janis Williams, review of House of the Winds, p. 136; April 15, 2004, Shirley N. Quan, review of Translations of Beauty, p. 127.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of Translations of Beauty, p. 37.
USA Today, May 20, 2004, review of Translations of Beauty, p. D6.
iVillage.com, http://www.ivillage.com/ (July 27, 2004), "House of the Winds: A Chat with Author Mia Yun."
Mia Yun Home Page, http://www.miayun.com (July 1, 2004).
Seattle Contemporary Review of Asian American Literature Online, http://www.scraal.com/ (April 21, 2001), interview with Yun.