This book took me awhile to read. The time it took was not longer just because I have had less time, but also because it is about a culture of which I am not very familiar. “House of the Winds” by Mia Yun is a story which at times drug along, but at other times was quite insightful.
The story takes place in different parts of Korea over time, but for the most part in the city of Seoul. Seoul is in South Korea and is their capitol. We follow this particular family through their struggles caused by the Korean War, as well as through their own personal strife.
The story is told by one of the daughters of the family. She basically narrates while recounting memories, not necessarily in order. She tells about her mother, lack thereof father and her siblings; a brother and sister. Since this is a story of memories there were often times when I wondered if pieces were elaborated or spun into a fairytale quality. It could have just been that Mia Yun has a unique and beautiful way of describing things, even when they are frightening memories.
I folded down corners of some pages that I wanted to share excerpts from, because I found them thought provoking and interesting.
In one instance, she was remembering something her mother had told her about happiness. She recalls this during a period of time when her older sister had runaway from home.
“About happiness. Happiness is not something one grabs out of the air and rubs all over like honey. One had to strive for and work for it.”
There is also a section when they mother and children had to move again because their father was still missing in action and mother couldn’t afford the house. When they moved into the much older, much smaller house, the grandmother visited and she brought a box of matches and cakes of soap. The tradition being that wealth would spread like wildfire and multiply like soap bubbles. I thought that was very cute and will probably be using that sentiment for friends in the future. =o)
Last but not least, I enjoyed when our narrator discussed her feeling about books. She was reading profusely, all the time, waiting for her older sisters magazines and getting her hands on any book she could find.
“Then I began to find words I read in books fanciful and elusive – sunlight streaming through my fingers. They could pass right through me and leave me still hungry and empty.” She further goes on to say, “A word was a tricky thing. It could change meaning from one sentence to another. A word could betray me, fail me and confuse me. But I discovered if words are put to music and a voice sings them, they become permanent. This this way, the words form a link from one day to another.”
Like many other parts of the book I really connected with the way she wrote and explained her feelings. She endured so much and yet rarely complained about it because she could find beauty elsewhere.
Some of the book I still don’t really understand. Why is it important to celebrate someone 100 days after their death? What is so special about Carp that eating them is sinful? Why were men taken to fight in the war, never to return, and yet their parents were told nothing? And how can a country be so divided internally whilst also hating all of their neighboring countries? But then…how is that any different than the quirks of my own culture and country? Perhaps not different, perhaps not at all.