Forgotten Country (Paperback)

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March 2012 Indie Next List

“On the day of her sister's birth, Janie is told by her Korean grandmother that one girl child in each generation dies. This statement sets the stage for Janie's 'disappearance' and 'reemergence.' Laced with Korean folklore and culture, the story moves seamlessly from Korea to Middle America and reflects the travails of an immigrant family both culturally and emotionally. The writing in this debut is poetic, spare, and exquisite. It would be a great pick for a book group.”
— Biddy Kehoe, Hockessin Book Shelf, Hockessin, DE


A Booklist Top 10 First Novels of 2012 pick
A Bookpage Best Books of 2012 pick

“A richly emotional portrait of a family that had me spellbound from page one.”—Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild

The night before Janie’s sister, Hannah, is born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, and Janie is told to keep Hannah safe. Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie goes to find her. Thus begins a journey that will force her to confront her family’s painful silence, the truth behind her parents’ sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and her own conflicted feelings toward Hannah.

Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.

About the Author

Catherine Chung was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. She studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and received her MFA from Cornell. She is one of Granta’s New Voices, and lives in New York City.

Praise For…

“Gorgeous . . . a heartbreaking story about sisters, family, and keeping traditions alive.”

“Luminous and surprising . . . [Chung’s] voice is fresh, her material rich, and Forgotten Country is an impressive, memorable debut.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] lovely, elegiac novel . . . both heartbreaking and redemptive.”

The Boston Globe

"Chung indelibly portrays a Korea viciously divided but ever bound to history, myth, and hope."

O, The Oprah Magazine

“The unflinchingly honest examination of grief, anger, familial obligation, and love gives the novel a compelling emotional core.”

The New Yorker

“[Chung] is sensitive to the spontaneous combustibility of sisterly relations… [her] prose is crisp and unfussy.”

The New York Times

Forgotten Country is often wrenching, but Chung's graceful writing -- replete as it is with delicately rendered family affections, snippets of Korean folklore and an unerring sense of storytelling -- lifts the tragedies into the realm of lovely melancholia. The pain Janie feels with all of her discoveries isn't enviable, but the peace that the hard-swallowed wisdom brings her is touching and true.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A spare, haunting tale of loss, yearning and discovery.”


“An inexpressibly beautiful story…Chung does a masterful job of weaving the past with the present, incorporating mythology and memory in ways that both captivate and haunt…If you read one novel this spring, let it be Forgotten Country. I cannot overstate the joy this book brings.”

The Rumpus

“In this beautiful debut novel…Woven with tender reflections, sharp renderings of isolation, and beautiful prose…Chung simultaneously shines light on the violence of Korean history, the chill of American xenophobia, and the impossibility of home in either country.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Moving among emotions, from reserved to exuberant and from easy joy all the way to devastating pain and loss, Chung’s superb debut examines the twin hearts of cruelty and compassion between sisters in particular and family in general…This elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful first novel should earn Chung many fans, especially among those who enjoy Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee.”

Booklist (starred review)

“Chung delves with aching honesty and beauty into large, difficult questions—the strength and limits of family, the definition of home, the boundaries (or lack thereof) between duty and love—within the context of a Korean experience. Chung’s limpid prose matches her emotional intelligence.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beautiful…a masterful exploration of generational tensions within a Korean family on two continents…Chung is a remarkable writer, willing to dig fearlessly under her characters’ surface motivations. Her style is elegant but never clinical, and her judicious use of Korean folktales amplifies the themes of sacrifice, duty and expectation.”


Forgotten Country is a remarkable debut novel, one that profoundly explores our connections to family, friends, and homeland.”

Largehearted Boy

“It is a rare novel -- debut or otherwise -- that can sing at once with such tenderness and ferocity, with such intense feeling and exquisite restraint. Forgotten Country is just that book, poetically crafted, shimmering with hard-won emotion, and wholly absorbing. A superb performance.”

—Chang-rae Lee, author of The Surrednered

“A heartbreaking debut novel that will leave you quietly shattered in its wake. Forgotten Country is an exquisitely rendered account of a Korean immigrant family divided by two sisters, two countries and a curse that spans generations. Catherine Chung has written a haunting meditation on family loyalty and the lingering legacy of war.”

—Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic

“Catherine Chung's wonderful first novel is a moving and deeply personal story of a family caught between two very different countries and very different lives.”

—Alison Lurie, author of Foreign Affairs

“Catherine Chung is a writer whose first novel I've been waiting for, and her debut, Forgotten Country, more than fulfills what I hoped for---a boldly imagined novel of Korea and America, of a curse between sisters and a family trying to outrun a war that will not let them go. Chillingly beautiful and magnetic, unforgettable.”

—Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh

"A riveting, brutal portrait of two sisters in crisis, Catherine Chung's unforgettable debut is a work of enormous talent and heart. Written with compassion and insight, Forgotten Country examines the unspoken complexities of familial love and forgiveness, loyalty and betrayal, and renders an indelible, haunting image of Korea, past and present."

–Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women

“I was left utterly devastated by the wonder and heartbreak captured in these pages.  Forgotten Country is overflowing with folktales and family secrets, with American and Korean traditions, with haunting prose and mathematical beauty. Here is a book to cherish, and to celebrate. When I finished the last page I made a promise to myself to be more fearless and fierce with my love; it's that kind of book.”

—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals 

Product Details
ISBN: 9781594486524
ISBN-10: 1594486522
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2013
Pages: 304
Language: English