A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language―of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice.
The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love―letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history―her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre―and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words―in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language―to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.
“Koh’s book is a tremendous gift. We’re so fortunate to have this literary reckoning from a tremendously talented writer. The Magical Language of Others is a wonder.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“The Magical Language of Others is an exquisite, challenging, and stunning memoir. E. J. Koh intricately melds her personal story with a broader view of Korean history. Through these pages, you are asked to experience one family’s heartbreak, trauma, and complex love for each other. This memoir will pierce you.” —Crystal Hana Kim, If You Leave Me
The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing―in Eun Ji Koh―a singular, incandescent voice.
E. J. Koh is the author of poetry collection A LESSER LOVE, winner of the Pleiades Editors Prize (Louisiana State U. Press, 2017). Her poems, translations, and stories have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, World Literature Today, among others. She is the recipient of The MacDowell Colony and Kundiman fellowships, 2017 ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship, and is Runner-Up for the 2018 Prairie Schooner Summer Nonfiction Prize.