Sunday, February 22, 2009

Still Life With Rice by Helie Lee

Rating: 2.4.3
Category: Memoir
Published: 1997, 320 pages
Review: 4.5/5 stars

Still Life With Rice by Helie Lee is the kind of book that can be a little difficult to read. The accounts of suffering due to war and child abuse are hard to read but without them the book would not give an accurate account of a strong, brave, faithful woman.

This book is written by Helie Lee but mostly in the voice of her grandmother. In the first chapter Helie writes about her frustration with her mother and grandmother who think that Helie has become too Americanized and should be more Korean. Even though she disagrees with them she decides to go back to Korea where she was born. There she meets relatives who revere her grandmother and she can't quite understand why. She decides to find out more about her family history and that is how her grandmother's story comes to be told in this book. After the first chapter the narrative switches to the voice of her grandmother and it begins with her birth in what is now North Korea.

I've mentioned before that I was a missionary in South Korea so this book was especially dear to me. I wish that I had known more about Korea's history before I went over there. They are a very humble but strong people and after reading this book, I can understand why. Though this book doesn't always seem to be really well written, I thought the content made up for it. I really enjoyed learning more about the history and culture of this divided nation but the truly compelling part of the book was the relationships of the family members.

I have friends that have told me that they just can't read a book with child abuse in it and if that is the case for you, I don't recommend this book. That part is just in the beginning but it is heart-breaking, so be forewarned. If you liked Wild Swans or The Good Earth, I highly recommend this book. I thought about both of them as I was reading Still Life With Rice.


KT said...

I didn't realize you had served a mission. That's really awesome!

This book sounds interesting, but I'm not sure if I could handle the abuse. I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to child abuse.

KaseyQ said...

Hi Kim! I am so happy to have found your site- I started a book club at church (are you LDS? I'm guessing you are- me too) and we are always looking for good, clean reads. I just finished "Recovering Charles" by Jason Wright, which I thought was very thought-provoking, and I think I'll use it for when I host next month. A friend recommended a book to me called "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", and I can't think of the author off the top of my head, but I'm reading it now and it is an absolute delight. It is a novel in letters, which I always think is a fun format. The last one I read like that was another favorite of mine called "Ella Minnow Pea". Just the title makes me smile.

Anyway, I am happy to have found a blog I can use as a resource for reading. We had nice weather today and I sat out on the gazeebo swing all afternoon reading while my kids played. I think I would read all day if I could! Love it!

Kim said...

KT-I wish I could recommend this book to everyone but I know that some things are just too hard for some people to read.

KaseyQ-It's great to meet you! Yes, I am LDS. I haven't read Jason Wright's latest book yet but I plan to. I loved the Guernsey book and we're actually reading it for book club next month. I will have to find "Ella Minnow Pea". That is the best title ever!

Melissa said...

When were you in South Korea?? My husband served in Seoul, and is constantly on the lookout for Korean food (love kimchee around here) and Korean books/movies/whatever. This one does sound like a good book.

Kim said...

Melissa--I served in the Seoul West mission and was there 2/95-6/96. Do you like kimchee too? Most people I know only like kimchee if they've actually lived in Korea for a while. We have a great restraunt in the area but we really don't get there very often. I definitely need to read more books about Korea. I really enjoyed how I was able to recognize the culture while I was reading this book. A good middle reader book about Korea is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park which received the Newbery Medal. It was quite good.

Jeanette said...

This sounds really interesting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
I didn't realize you'd served a mission in Korea. I just picked up a brand new copy of A Single Shard for $1.00 a few days ago. I look forward to reading it.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Although it's about child abuse, this sounds like a book that I would like to look into including A Single Shard.