Crystal Hana Kim: Twice a refugee

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If You Leave Me, Harper Collins, 2018

Often times, the lives and experiences of first-generation Americans exist between two different countries: The one their parents migrated from and the one they live in now. For author Crystal Hana Kim, it was a bit more complicated. Kim, who is the daughter of Korean immigrants, was born and raised in New York by her grandmother because her parents couldn’t afford daycare. She says her grandmother would tell her stories about growing up during the Korean War and how it shaped her life choices.

“She was born into Korea when was it one country,” Kim says. “She was only 14 when the war began and I grew up hearing stories about how she lived in a refugee camp.” Like Kim, who talks about reconciling her Korean heritage with her American identity, her grandmother also faced challenges of what “home” meant to her after her country split in two after the war.

“A lot of people from my grandmother’s generation want reunification or the end of war,” says Kim, who visited South Korea during the inter-Korea summit in April.

Meet Kim at the “Finding Home: Stories of Immigrants & Refugees” panel on Saturday at Reynolds Place from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. with a book-signing at 5 p.m.

In her debut novel, If You Leave Me — released last month — Kim reflects on themes of home, war, love and belonging as she chronicles the life of a poor Korean woman in love with two different men over the course of 16 years, beginning during the Korean War.

“There’s so much I hope to capture about this tumultuous time in Korea’s history,” Kim says. “Growing up here, the Korean War is not a part of cultural consciousness. It’s called the “Forgotten War” and I wanted to write about it for myself but also for the culture at large.”

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