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If You Leave Me
Cover of If You Leave Me
If You Leave Me
A Novel

"An immersive, heartbreaking story about war, passion, and the road not taken." — People

"One of the most beautiful and moving love stories you'll read this year." — Nylon Magazine

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY The Washington Post • The New York Post • Vulture • Real Simple • Bustle • Nylon • Thrillist • Mental Floss • Self magazine • Booklist • Refinery 29

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they're forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family's makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn't realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman's longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

"An immersive, heartbreaking story about war, passion, and the road not taken." — People

"One of the most beautiful and moving love stories you'll read this year." — Nylon Magazine

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY The Washington Post • The New York Post • Vulture • Real Simple • Bustle • Nylon • Thrillist • Mental Floss • Self magazine • Booklist • Refinery 29

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they're forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family's makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn't realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman's longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

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About the Author-
  • Crystal Hana Kim holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a contributing editor for Apogee Journal. She has received numerous awards, including PEN America's Story Prize for Emerging Writers, along with fellowships and support from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, among others. Born and raised in New York, she currently lives in Chicago. If You Leave Me is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2018

    Fleeing to a refugee camp when Communist-backed troops from the North invade her hometown in 1950s Korea, Haemi Lee clings to a beloved friend but is drawn to the security offered by his wealthy cousin. With a 75,000-copy first printing; Kim won PEN America's Story Prize for Emerging Writers.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 21, 2018
    A family struggles to balance tradition and change in Kim’s marvelous debut. Sixteen years old and living in a refugee camp in 1951 Busan, South Korea, Lee Haemi is not interested in marrying but knows the plight of her situation might necessitate it. War has put everything on hold except starving, dying, and desperation. Her decision to find a husband—borne partially out of hope for finding help for her ailing little brother, Hyunki—ripples through the lives of those around her, especially the cousins who compete for her affections: quiet, studious Yun Kyunghwan and loyal, clever Yun Jisoo. Kyunghwan and Jisoo are both conscripted and go off to war, where the former is injured and the latter becomes inured to the staggering violence and cruelty he witnesses. After the fighting, Jisoo asks Haemi to marry him, and she agrees, feeling he is the best option to guarantee the safety of her family. After they move to a small town and start a family of their own, Kyunghwan tries to get into college and fails; instead, he lands several demeaning jobs before eventually working his way up the ladder through a series of factory jobs. In a crucible of political upheaval, modernization, and tumultuous love, Haemi is faced with choosing between safety and her own passions when Kyunghwan reenters her life. Kim’s lyrical intergenerational saga resonates deeply and will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Orphan Master’s Son.

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2018
    In this debut novel, a love triangle is complicated by temperament, circumstance, and history: Korea, 1951-1967. We meet Haemi Lee at 16, in a refugee camp. The war between North and South has forced what is left of her family--her mother and her invalid younger brother--from their village. In her boredom, she's begun going out at night with a boy named Kyunghwan--they ride a bicycle into town and find ways to drink makgeolli and have some fun. The problem is that by day, she's being courted by this boy's wealthier, orphaned cousin, Jisoo. Jisoo wants to marry Haemi before he enlists, mainly so that he can have the sense that there's a family waiting for him at home when he returns. Haemi's decision plays out over the next 16 years, a time of great upheaval in the lives of all Koreans. The perspective on the action is split among five first-person narrators--the three already mentioned, Haemi's younger brother, and one of her daughters--and leaps over years at a time. This both expands the scope of the story and muffles its emotional power. Most interesting is the character of Haemi, who knows something is wrong with her, something that manifests as irritability, dissatisfaction, impulsivity, and an inability to connect deeply with those closest to her. In a world without diagnoses, therapists, or antidepressants, she will face a challenge even greater than the romantic one--becoming a mother. The character of Haemi is fascinating, her predicament a kind of Korean Virginia Woolf situation. Though this bulky saga is not as compelling as it could be, Kim's portrayal of the effects of mental illness on a family at a psychologically naïve time is perceptive and moving.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Washington Post "Stunning ... The novel is interested in something most others aren't: the aftermath. It focuses both on what comes after war—as a new country struggles to develop its identity—and what follows Haemi's fateful decision, as the ramifications of her choice ripple out to affect everyone around her."
  • Cosmopolitan "Attention Hollywood: Adapt Crystal Hana Kim's cinematic, decades-spanning romance If You Leave Me ASAP, please and thank you."
  • MarieClaire.com "Both a forbidden love story and a portrait of war and refugee life, If You Leave Me will tear at your heartstrings. A breathtaking can't-put-down read."
  • USA Today (four stars) "Heartrending . . . details the anguish of star-crossed love and familial duty . . . a stunning feat of lyricism, an enthralling, tragic novel brimming with angst and remorse."

  • The Millions "A grand, sweeping story that proves that an epic can yield strong, individualized characters while still developing a nuanced perspective that refuses to essentialize war, women, or national identity."
  • Elle.com "As beautifully layered as it is devastating . . . the riches of If You Leave Me will leave you contemplating the passage of time and its impact on the ties that we keep."
  • Refinery29.com "Mark our words: If You Leave Me is the book everyone (and their mothers in book club) will be talking about this summer . . . devastating and beautiful. With arresting prose, Kim writes of a woman caught in time and in history."
  • Chang-rae Lee, author of Native Speaker "A remarkably absorbing novel of people enduring the unendurables of war with grace, toughness, and undying love. If You Leave Me marks the debut of a born storyteller."
  • Jessica Shattuck, New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle "A gripping, heartrending tale of the birth of modern Korea filtered through the prism of an intimate love story. In fresh, often astonishing prose, Kim brings her characters to life: complicated, flawed, and hard not to fall in love with. A strikingly original work."
  • People "Combines vivid depictions of traditional Korean culture with an immersive, heartbreaking story about war, passion, and the road not taken."
  • Real Simple "Kim's heartrending saga—told from the perspectives of five characters—examines how difficult choices can test even our closest relationships."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A family struggles to balance tradition and change in Kim's marvelous debut. . . . [this] lyrical intergenerational saga resonates deeply and will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Orphan Master's Son."
  • Popsugar, 30 of the Newest, Hottest Books to Pick Up This Summer "Crystal Hana Kim's debut novel, If You Leave Me, is the saga of Haemi and Kyunghwan, childhood friends turned forbidden lovers, who are separated by civil war in Korea and brought together years later, when Haemi must choose between love and loyalty."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Kim renders her multivoiced, multilayered ancestral and cultural history into stupendous testimony and indelible storytelling."
  • Parade, The Top 26 Hottest Books of Summer 2018 "A love story and family saga melded into one, If You Leave Me is an unforgettable summer release about two young adults finding their way in the world."
  • Wall Street Journal "Crystal Hana Kim possesses a pleasingly clear and fluid style of writing . . . deftly intertwining personal and political conflicts."
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A Novel
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