February 1954. Although the Korean War armistice was signed a year ago, most citizens of Seoul still battle to return to some semblance of normalcy. Alice J. Kim, a Korean translator and typist for the American forces still sanctioned in the city, yearns for the life she used to live before her country was torn apart. Then Alice’s boss makes an announcement—the American movie star Marilyn Monroe will be visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour, and Alice has been chosen as her translator.
... extraordinary depth and sensibility ... With great care and mastery of poetic language, translator Kim brings Lee’s novel to English-language readers, a large swath of whom it will speak to. Lovers of historical fiction will appreciate Lee’s attention to dates and details, while readers seeking intrigue will find plot aplenty, and it’s all tangled in a tragic romance built up to epic proportions. Philosophically minded readers, too, will appreciate how Alice’s moments of introspection provide keen insight into life’s deepest questions.
... a lush tale of historical fiction ... Using the interaction between two women from vastly different walks of life, [Lee] forms connections between them and weaves a story that contains elements of despair, whimsy, and surprise ... Unique in its setting, mid-1950s Korea newly split by communism after two devastating wars, this brief novel will be appreciated by readers who enjoy historical context and/or strong female protagonists.
... bleak but whimsical and, yes, hopeful ... Chi-Young Kim's translation is both spare and emotionally evocative, suiting a narrator who is simultaneously desolate and childishly yearning ... Born of a curiosity about human relationships in unusual times, The Starlet and the Spy asks the questions: What if we met across a divide? What if a despairing young Korean woman reached into Marilyn Monroe's makeup bag for a lipstick, or a way out? In a decidedly optimistic turn, Lee leaves her ending open, and her reader free to wonder what might be next for Alice.