Forgotten Country


Gotham teacher Catherine Chung's novel, Forgotten Country, was recently published by Riverhead.

Janie is warned by her grandmother that she must watch out for her new-born sister as, for many years, the family has lost a daughter in every generation. The reasons, though, are shrouded in mystery. Years later, the sister disappears and Janie sets out to find her.

Weaving together Korean folklore and contemporary fiction, the story is not easily forgotten. The book is an Indie Next Pick, a Publishers’ Weekly Pick, Bookpage’s Top Fiction Pick for March, an O Magazine Must-Read, and an Elle Readers’ Prize Pick.

Here is the opening:

The year that Hannah disappeared, the first frost came early, killing everything in the garden. It took the cantaloupe and the tomatoes, the leaves of lettuce turned brittle and snapped. Even the kale withered and died. In front, the wine colored roses froze, powdered grey with the cold, like silk flowers in an attic covered with dust. My father and I had planted the garden over several weekends, and tended it carefully. Then it had overgrown itself, the tomatoes winding themselves up the wall of our house and stretching out to span the distance to the fence. After the frost we’d left it all winter, without trimming anything back. Now we stood on the lawn, surveying the ruin, tracking damp patches of ground wherever we stepped.

“We’re selling the house,” my father said, blowing warm air on his hands.

It felt suddenly difficult to breathe. When my parents had told me they were going back to Korea, I’d known selling our house was a possibility, but I hadn’t expected it.

“We’re going to have to clean this up,” my father said, gesturing at the garden.

“Aren’t you cold?” I said. “Let’s go inside.”

He nodded. The tendons in his neck were taut. His breath steamed slowly around his face. Everything was inside-out, or at least the cold had turned the insides of things visible. The green tomatoes were now grey and translucent, their skins puckered at the stems, still hanging from their frozen vines. “We want you to find Hannah,” he said.

“When are you leaving?” I asked.

“As soon as possible,” my father said.

“I want to go with you.”

My father shook his head. “Find your sister,” he said. He had blamed me after the initial panic, when we discovered that Hannah hadn’t been abducted or killed, but had simply left without telling us, without leaving us a way to contact her. I was her older sister, living in the same city. He thought I should have seen it coming. He was already sick then, but hadn’t told us yet. I wonder if Hannah would have been able to pick up and leave like that if she had known.

When I moved back home for the summer, my father couldn’t hide his illness anymore. Instead of talking about it, he grilled me about Hannah. He wanted to know everything about the months prior to her departure: what she had looked like, what she had said. What I had noticed: why I hadn’t noticed more.

Reprinted by permission of Riverhead Books. Order online from Amazon or IndieBound.

For more information on Catherine and her book, go here: