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This blog was featured on 08/21/2018
Crystal Hana Kim on Writing About A Sensitive Topic, Her Influences and a Five-Point-of-View Story
Written by
She Writes
August 2018
Written by
She Writes
August 2018

Crystal Hana Kim, the author of If You Leave Me, knows what it’s like to write a complex book about a subject that will affect people everywhere. The award-winning debut novelist is not afraid to tell a tough story about family and a war-torn nation and her insight into writing is a source of inspiration for writers who are looking to approach a story that’s bigger than themselves.

Telling A Story from Five Points of View

Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me tells a story from five different points of view. When asked about this decision by Publisher’s Weekly, Kim had this to say about her decision:

“I began with Haemi Lee, who is the central figure of the novel. However, as I delved into the intricacies of this family surviving the Korean War and the love triangle between Haemi, Kyunghwan, and Jisoo, I realized that multiple voices were necessary. By also giving voice to the two men in her life; her younger brother, Hyunki; and eventually her daughter, Solee, I could create multiple layers of meaning and a richer texture to the novel overall.”

Interviewing Family As Research

While doing research for her first novel, she went to the best source she knew: her family. During an interview with Elle, Crystal opened up about the experience:

“My grandmother raised me when I was little. I was born here and my parents are immigrants; they needed someone to help take care of me because they were working a lot, so my grandmother came from Korea. So I’m very close with my grandmother and I keep in touch with her a lot. I heard stories about her being a teenage refugee—they were so moving and horrifying and so different from my life here that I knew I wanted to write about it one day.

“Haemi is not my grandmother, but her initial situation is very much inspired by my grandmother. My grandmother also really wanted an education and wasn’t able to receive it. She also had to marry young, so those are the parallels. I’m really grateful that I got to interview her in a more formal setting because now I have this story about her that I can carry on. My grandmother can’t read English. She hasn’t read the book, but I’m hoping that it will get translated so she can read it.”

The Influences Behind Her Writing

While interviewing Crystal Hana Kim, The Rumpus was curious about her influences and who inspires her work:

“I love Toni Morrison. I love sweeping novels about issues that are difficult to write about or have not been written about and she does that so well. Her sentences are stunning. I love Louise Erdrich. And Deborah Eisenberg, who is a former teacher of mine—the way she writes about class always startles me in the best way. I’ve admired sentence-level writers like Anthony Doerr and Colum McCann for years.”

Writing About A Sensitive Topic

During an interview with Hazlitt, Crystal was asked about the difficulty in writing about a touchy topic. Although the world seems to be fascinated with North Korea, this book touches on a topic that affects families everywhere and Crystal knew she had to approach it with grace:

“When I started writing this, I was really just driven by my interest and my own need to write it. I felt like it was something I had to do. I wasn’t thinking about any readers in particular. But later on, when I had a draft I was revising and I was starting to think beyond the characters, I did start to think about that kind of pressure. I had a conversation about the book with my parents and my uncle, and showed them all of these photos I had gathered over the years. My uncle made a comment like, “Make sure you represent us well and make Koreans proud, show us in a good light.””

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  • Mary Kennedy Eastham

    I so appreciate this article. I've been working on an essay, The Divorce Diarist, for so long my eyes are black and blue! It's been hard because living the topic has been so hard. I think it's finally finished and ready to be sent out for publication. This article came at the perfect time for me. Thanks...