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.
... [a] profound literary memoir of intergenerational wounds ... formally daring, making full use of various parallelisms to create a rhythm between past and present ... The letters, as Koh explains it, are in 'kiddie diction,' lending a fascinating verisimilitude to Koh’s adult narration of what happened to her, her mother and her grandmothers ... We’re so fortunate to have this literary reckoning from a tremendously talented writer. Koh’s The Magical Language of Others is a wonder: a challenging and deep meditation on how wounds of the past and present inform our relationship with those outside of us, which is to say, everyone.
[A] stunning memoir ... Koh, who is both a poet and translator, writes prose that is simple yet elliptical and all the more resonant for what is left unsaid ... The parallels between Koh’s mother’s circumstances and the decisions she makes in regard to her own daughter feel both humanly real and almost uncanny, but Koh allows these parallels to speak for themselves ... it’s both a pleasure and a relief to read about Eun Ji’s success when she turns her attention first to poetry and then translation ... Koh learns to wield language not to further isolate herself, but as a way to connect with others. The result is this beautiful, scorching memoir.