Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Book Review: The Korean Word For Butterfly by James Zerndt

The Korean Word For Butterfly
by James Zerndt
Publisher: Create Space, March 27, 2013
Available in: Print & ebook, 329 pages

I was in my late twenties when I was first introduced to novels featuring the interplay between two or more cultures.  It was the late eighties and one of my Literature and Creative Writing professors (Lawson Inada, later Poet Laureate for Oregon) assigned us a book by an Amer-Indian woman.  Silko?  I was entranced and began to seek them out and have continued to favor them ever since.  Trust me when I say, James Zerndt compares favorably with some of the best I encountered with his The Korean Word for Butterfly.  I am grateful to him for introducing me to the Korean/American relationship.

This story set in 2002 is not so long ago.  Not even pre-Internet and yet the misunderstanding, biases, judgmental arrogance and confusion generated by the language barrier and the differences in how the two cultures view themselves and what gives meaning to their lives is as old as that between Israel and the Persians in the Biblical stories of Daniel and Esther.

By language barrier I mean also the non-verbal for bodies and faces are speaking a foreign language across the cultural divide.

I like the way Zerndt used inter-personal relationships among his primary and secondary characters to both show how these misunderstanding are created and how it will be at the inter-personal level not the international level that the relationships between nations and culture will be repaired.  And to this point it really is a shame that Americans for the most part make little effort to prepare their young for this role by exposing them to foreign languages early as most all of the other cultures do.

By having his story revolve around a Korean school dedicated to teaching their children English and the Americans they bring over to teach, Zerndt was able to demonstrate all of this. But not in the dry way I just explained it.  Rather with a story in which characters, so well drawn you come away feeling like you know them, live it in front of your eyes.

I've made it no secret here that I believe in the power of story to transform, to heal, to enlighten.  I've witnessed it and lived it.  I believe that my intense interest in this type of story when introduced to it by Professor Inada was because I was already sensing the shift deep in myself that would, just five years later, culminate with me breaking away from the fundamentalist sect I was raised in and continuing to seek them out and read them helped me reach a new equilibrium after that devastating experience.  This is why I believe that storytellers like James Zerndt who help us learn how to communicate across cultural boundaries and even time are one of our most valuable resources.

From the Publishers:

Set against the backdrop of the 2002 World Cup and rising anti-American sentiment due to a deadly accident involving two young Korean girls and a U.S. tank, The Korean Word For Butterfly is told from three alternating points-of-view:
Billie, the young wanna-be poet looking for adventure with her boyfriend who soon finds herself questioning her decision to travel so far from the comforts of American life;
Moon, the ex K-pop band manager who now works at the English school struggling to maintain his sobriety in hopes of getting his family back;
And Yun-ji , a secretary at the school whose new feelings of resentment toward Americans may lead her to do something she never would have imagined possible.
The Korean Word For Butterfly is a story about the choices we make and why we make them.

What they are saying:

“5 stars. Full of fresh, original writing.” -THE KINDLE BOOK REVIEW
“This is one of the best young novels of the year.” -Grady Harp, Amazon TOP 50/HALL OF FAME REVIEWER
“Zerndt is a wonderful writer, and BUTTERFLY is an absolutely beautiful story. I was drawn into his characters from the first page, and I found myself devouring the novel in huge, satisfying gulps.” - kacunnin, Amazon TOP 500 REVIEWER
“The author had his finger on the pulse of how na├»ve Americans react to Korean culture and a spot on depiction of how Korean culture plays into this sort of scenario.” -Wayne, Amazon TOP 500 REVIEWER/VINE VOICE
Zerndt has managed to write something completely different from The Cloud Seeders yet equally captivating. These deliciously flawed characters will capture your heart from page one and have you sweating when you realize you’re reaching the end of the story entirely too soon. Zerndt is a master storyteller who seems to be able to write from absolutely anyone’s point of view with ease. Can’t wait to see more from this author.”-Sheri Meshal, Author of Swallowtail
From the Back Cover:
“Zerndt is the real deal.” -Jonathan Harris, author of The Wave That Did Not Break

James Zerndt lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son. His poetry has appeared in The Oregonian Newspaper, and his fiction has most recently appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal. He taught English in South Korea in 2002 and still loves kimchi.

Jamie’s short story, “The Tree Poachers”, recently won WCCHA’s fiction award. Some of his short stories have also won Honorable Mention in both Playboy’s and The Atlantic Monthly’s Fiction Contests.


Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: 

So Many Precious Books Feb 3 Spotlight & Giveaway
Joy Story Feb 4 Review
Joy Story Feb 11 Interview
Every Free Chance Feb 5 Spotlight & Giveaway
She Treads Softly Feb 7 Review
The Book Diva Reads Feb 10 Guest Post & Giveaway
Let’s Talk About Books Feb 12 Review & Giveaway
Indies Reviews Behind the Scenes Feb 14 Blog Talk Radio Excerpt/discussion 8 pm cst
Tracy Riva Feb 14 Review
Tracy Riva Feb 17 Guest Post & Giveaway
The Princess Gummy Bear Feb 17 You Tube Review
Serendipity Feb 19 Review
Reader’s Muse Feb 18 Review
Reader’s Muse Feb 14 Interview
From Isi Feb 20 Review
Deal Sharing Aunt Feb 21 Review
Deal Sharing AuntFeb 24 Interview
Book Dilettante Feb 25 Review
So Many Precious Books Feb 26
Carole Rae’s Ramblings  Feb 27 Review
Margay Leah Justice Feb 28 Review
Margay Leah Justice Feb 28 Guest Post & Giveaway
Romance & Inspiration Mar 3 Review


2 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 2/04/2014 8:34 PM  

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm so glad you enjoyed The Korean Word for Butterfly so much! I love multicultural books as well!

Unknown 2/05/2014 4:05 PM  

What a thoughtful review. Thanks so much, Joy. I'm glad you liked it. That made my day! Jamie

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