This Burns My Heart (Paperback)

By Samuel Park

Simon & Schuster, 9781439199626, 336pp.

Publication Date: March 6, 2012

July 2011 Indie Next List

“In South Korea in 1960, Soo-Ja Choi is a beautiful young woman from a well-to-do family. As the country is struggling to recover from a divisive war and tries to enter the modern world, Soo-Ja is exploring her options as a young adult. When her father does not allow her to accept a position studying to be a diplomat, he destroys her dreams. Over the next 15 years, she struggles with her life decisions, her new family, and a love she gave up before she understood the permanence of choice. A compulsive read, the novel is based on the life of Park's mother.”
— Terry Gilman, Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego, CA
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Description

In this compelling love story set in postwar Korea in the 1960s, an unhappily married woman struggles to give her daughter a good life and to find love in a society caught between ancient tradition and change.

On the eve of her marriage, beautiful and strong-willed Soo-Ja Choi receives a passionate proposal from a young medical student. But caught up in her desire to pursue a career in Seoul, she turns him away, having impetuously chosen another man who she believes will let her fulfill her dreams. Instead, she finds herself tightly bound by tradition and trapped in a suffocating marriage, her ambition reduced to carving out a successful future for her only daughter. Through it all, she longs for the man she truly loves, whose path she seems destined to cross again and again. In This Burns My Heart, Samuel Parks has crafted a transcendent love story that vibrantly captures 1960s South Korea and brings to life an unforgettable heroine.


About the Author

Korean-American author Samuel Park was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil until the age of fourteen. His novel "This Burns My Heart" was chosen as a Best Book of 2011 by Amazon, "Kirkus Reviews," and "BookPage." It was named one of NPR s Freshest Reads and "Today" s Favorite Things, and has been translated into four languages. He is an assistant professor of English at Columbia College and lives in Chicago. Visit Samuel Park at SamuelPark.com."


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Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Early in their courtship, Soo-Ja thinks of Min as weak: “But what she realized was that she wouldn’t mind that—being the strong one. She’d like to swoop in and care for Min, who seemed like such a lost soul sometimes… He was the opposite of Yul, who seemed to need nothing and no one.” (p. 51-52) Is Soo-Ja’s perception accurate? Does Min change throughout the book, or has he just masked himself during their courtship? Is Soo-Ja naÏve to want such an unbalanced (and untraditional) relationship?
  2. Soo-Ja is angry that she was tricked by Min, but her objective was to trick him as well: “She thought she was the one using him, when the opposite had been true.” (p. 81) Is she getting what she deserved? Who had better motivation? Do their motivations matter?
  3. Why do Soo-Ja and Yul have such a strong connection, even though they rarely see each other?
  4. Discuss Soo-Ja’s relationship with her parents. Which parent is she closer to? Which parent understands her better?
  5. Compare Soo-Ja’s relationship with her parents with that of Min and his parents. Do you see any similarities?
  6. After hearing about Soo-Ja’s ordeal when Hana was lost, her father tells her, “When you let me be your father and let me worry about you, care for you, and even suffer for you, you’re not doing a favor to yourself, you’re doing a favor to me. When you need me, I am alive.” (p. 177) Discuss the significance of this statement. How is this true in his life and in Soo-Ja’s? Do you think this statement applies to all parents?
  7. Min asks Soo-Ja, “If you had to choose, would you rather be yourself or Eun-Mee?” (p. 291) in an attempt to elicit empathy from her. Soo-Ja realizes, “The thing about capturing a prize fish is that everyone admires the fish, and soon forgets about the fisherman.” (p. 292) Do you think Soo-Ja feels pity for Min? Do you? Why or why not?
  8. When Hana tells Soo-Ja she should have done something about her unhappiness, Soo-Ja realizes, “She had never lived for herself, and in that, she found her greatest mistake and her greatest glory. Her selflessness had not been entirely chosen, but rather forced out of her, by her family” (p. 332), and then tells Hana that it is indeed her own fault. Do you agree? What could Soo-Ja have done differently? What would you have done in her place? What forces were working against her?
  9. Why does Min finally agree to let Soo-Ja and Hana go? What causes his change of heart, and why did it take him so long?
  10. The title of the novel is This Burns My Heart, which is how Soo-Ja and Yul feel about their forced separation. Discuss the meaning of the title, and how Soo-Ja and Yul deal with their pain. What else does the title capture in the novel?
  11. Throughout the novel, Soo-Ja regrets saying “No” to Yul’s proposal back when she was 22. “We’re only given one life, and it’s the one we live, she had thought; how painful now, to realize that wasn’t true, that you would have different lives, depending on how brave you were, and how ready.” (p. 285) How does this statement compare with her revelation that “The life she had was in fact the one she’d been supposed to have” (p. 352). Reread both passages. Which do you agree with, or do you have a different philosophy? In your own life, can you see one monumental decision that changed the course of your life, even if you didn’t know it at the time?
  12. Discuss the role of women in the novel. How does their position in society shift during Soo-Ja’s lifetime? Think about the increasing opportunities for Soo-Ja’s mother, herself, and her daughter Hana.
  13. The changing society of South Korea after the Korean War provides the backdrop for the story, and one of the themes of this novel is the balance of traditional family roles with an increasingly modern society. Discuss examples of this conflict that stood out to you in the novel. How do you see the growth of the country evidenced throughout the novel?
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