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Episode 269: Marie Myung-Ok Lee

BY MEGAN LABRISE • May 24, 2022

A Korean American doctor confronts his future and past in Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s new novel.

On this week’s episode, Marie Myung-Ok Lee discusses The Evening Hero (Simon & Schuster, May 24), a compelling saga centering on Yungman Kwak, a Korean American doctor grappling with retirement and family secrets in the small town of Horse’s Breath, Minnesota. Kirkus says this sweeping, propulsive new novel—from the celebrated YA author (Finding My Voice), co-founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and professor of creative writing at Columbia University—is “filled with as much heartache and healing as it is historical significance.”

Here’s a bit more from our review of The Evening Hero: “As a co-founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, Lee has long been a leading voice in the literary world. She organizes this saga into five sections, each more gripping than the last, as the story travels through time and across continents to describe the many obstacles Yungman faces on his journey from a boy forced to flee his village to a medical student in Seoul competing to woo a charismatic classmate to a man who leaves his home country for greater opportunity elsewhere. Lee delves deeper into Yungman’s roots and explores myriad aspects of Korean history, not least of which is an overdue accounting of the suffering America’s occupation and war caused. Yungman is a survivor, and the novel explores how the choices so many immigrants make, the secrets they keep, the risks they take, big and small, can lead to good fortune or failure.”

Lee and host Megan Labrise begin by discussing Yungman Kwak: who he is, where he is, and where we meet him on the timeline of his life; the novel’s five-section structure; Lee’s experiences as the first Fulbright scholar to Korea for creative writing and one of the few American journalists granted a visa to North Korea; the irreducibility of human experience; idiomatic expressions in Korean; the role of sarcasm in the novel; the success of the Asian American Writers Workshop; and much more.

Then editors Laura Simeon, Mahnaz Dar, Eric Liebetrau, and Laurie Muchnick share their top picks in books for the week.

 

Editorspicks:

The Days of Bluegrass Love by Edward van de Vendel, tr. by Emma Rault (Levine Querido)

Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff (Dial Books)

Miss Chloe: A Memoir of a Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison by A.J. Verdelle (Amistad/HarperCollins)

Trust by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead Books)

 

Also mentioned on this episode:

The Good Negress by A.J. Verdelle (Algonquin)

The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee (Knopf)

 

Thanks to our advertisers:

The Spear of Vengeance by F. David Smith

The Sunken City by Emma V.R. Noyes

 

 

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

 

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