The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

When Eun Ji was a teenager, her parents left California to return for Seoul for a job, leaving EJ with her older brother. They stayed away for seven years, with only occasional trips and an attempt by Koh to live in Korea, where she trained in a Kpop training camp. Koh weaves together her own narrative with that of her relatives, telling tales of loss and survival. Punctuating the story are Koh’s mother’s letters back to America, reprinted in their original form - mostly Korean, with occasional English (sewer line) – as well as a full English translation. The voices play against each other, with the delicate and dreamlike meditations of Koh counterpointed by Mom’s earnest and matter-of-fact musings. Joined together, they form a beautiful making-of-a-poet memoir.

— Daniel Goldin

E.J. Koh will be at Boswell on Tuesday, January 14, 7 pm. Free, no registration necessary.

— Boswell Book Company


The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh's parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother's absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love--letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.

As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history--her grandmother Jun's years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre--and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words--in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language--to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.

The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing--in Eun Ji Koh--a singular, incandescent voice.

Product Details
ISBN: 9781947793385
ISBN-10: 1947793381
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Pages: 203
Language: English