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The Apology


The Apology

In Jimin Han’s second book, THE APOLOGY, secrets are long-buried, grudges are hard-held, and apologies are needed now more than ever. As centenarian Hak Jeonga chronicles her death, early explorations of the afterlife, and the many, many lives and stories that brought her there, she paints an exquisite family portrait of love, loss and loyalty.

“A bus was my undoing. Simple fact. I died in Chicago, America. If I had only paid attention to what was around me.” When we meet 105-year-old Jeonga, she has just been struck by a bus while fleeing her grandson Ned’s home after a stressful reunion. Ned was raised totally American by his American mother after his Korean father’s death, is a chronicler of family history, and recently has undertaken the challenge of fleshing out his family tree only to discover that an entire branch seems to be missing.

"...a tender, genre-bending novel... It is sure to be popular among book clubs looking for works of fiction rich with conversation points, difficult questions and endless opportunities for reflection."

When Jeonga and her sisters, Mina and Aera, make the journey to America to help a sick relative, Mina and Aera secretly schedule the meeting with Ned hoping it will bring Jeonga closure. But little do they know that Ned’s research threatens to unearth decades-old family secrets that Jeonga hoped to carry to her death. Unfortunately for Jeonga, now that she has died, she is realizing that the truth may be the only way to save her family and all of its future generations…if only she could get to the heart of her original lies and secrets to deliver the apologies that will save her.

To tell the story of Jeonga, though, we must go back to South Korea during the Korean War, when families and loved ones were divided between North and South. Jeonga already has lost her sister, Seona, to the other side when she eloped with a cruel man, a rift that pushed her father into despondency and ultimately killed him. Since then, Jeonga has worked tirelessly to preserve her family name, maintain her family fortune, and uphold the most important thing to all of them: reputation. War is difficult enough, and now with her husband dead, she knows that she must focus only on her teenage son, Gwangmu, whose education could serve as a ticket out of Korea and all of its trauma.

So when a teacher, Siwon, offers to school Gwangmu in exchange for room and board for him and his teenage sister, Hayun, Jeonga leaps at the chance…not just to help him, but to do as her sister did and live her own love story. It seems that she has found peace during war, so naturally she is shocked and horrified when Gwangmu impregnates Hayun. Knowing that she cannot allow her family’s name to be sullied again, she sends the girl and her baby to America, effectively ending her own romance and causing a rift in her relationship with her son that will ripple for generations.

Many, many years later, Gwangmu has not only moved to America himself, he has died…but not before marrying and fathering two American children, Ned and Pam. Besieged by her guilt, Jeonga has little to do with these grandchildren, though she continues to keep a close eye on her illegitimate granddaughter, Jiu, who is now a grandmother to Ellery, a twentysomething aspiring chef. The name Ellery is a secret held only by Jeonga, not spoken of or even whispered to Mina or Aera, despite their closeness and shared goal of maintaining and supporting the family. Having seen her sisters and their judgmental gossip firsthand, Jeonga knows they can never discover her beloved son’s transgression…or the fact that she effectively chopped a limb from their family tree without so much as telling them.

Then a letter arrives: Seona never escaped North Korea and its Communist control, but her son, Daeshim, did. He eventually made it to America, where he fathered a daughter, Joyce. Now Joyce is writing with an emergency: her only son, Jordan, has fallen mysteriously ill, and despite countless doctors and tests, no one can figure out what is wrong with him or how to treat him. Joyce and her father never asked for a dime from their aunts, but now Joyce is asking for part of Seona’s inheritance to help keep him alive. She has been by Jordan’s side night and day, and without their help, she will have no way to save her son, who is engaged to a loving fiance named…Ellery.

Even with one million Koreans in America and nine million square kilometers of land, Jeonga’s secret great-granddaughter, Ellery, is somehow engaged to her own third cousin. And if Jeonga doesn’t step in and prevent the marriage, her family tree will be rotten from within. The only problem is that it's much harder to control your family, manipulate their encounters and protect them against themselves when you’re dead.

Told in an unforgettable voice and sweeping across continents, battlelines and even the veil that separates us from the afterlife, THE APOLOGY is a tender, genre-bending novel that demonstrates the power that secrets --- and grudges --- have over us, even from beyond the grave. Jeonga’s voice is enchanting, fiery and mercurial but also longing and earnest. Given her broad experiences as a 105-year-old, her stories are fascinating, bolstered by her introspection and retrospection, particularly as delivered from the afterlife.

Although this intricately woven and moving book occasionally collapses under its side plots and uneven pacing, it is a captivating, epic novel about family, redemption and reconciliation. It is sure to be popular among book clubs looking for works of fiction rich with conversation points, difficult questions and endless opportunities for reflection.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 25, 2023

The Apology
by Jimin Han

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316367087
  • ISBN-13: 9780316367080