Korean War not forgotten in Owen Choi's novel Tendrils of Life
Raleigh - Sixty years after the Korean War, one which some call the "forgotten" or "unknown" war, many US veterans gathered together on the anniversary recounting their experiences. For South Koreans who lived through it, the memories continue to haunt them.
"That the war still is at front-and-center in the hearts and minds of those who fought in it was written on the faces of Korean War veterans like Vince, who were honored on Sunday during a commemoration ceremony in Orland Park." - Chicago Sun Times
"North Korea's National Defence Commission responded by declaring that the regime is prepared to conduct a nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and it made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States." -- Global News: | South Korean president-elect won't tolerate North Korea provocations: envoy
Digital Journal interviewed Owen Choi, author of Tendrils of Life, a book which exposes the personal side of the war revealing how the turmoil in Korea at the end of World War II and the Pacific War devastated the country and its people. In Choi's debut novel, he weaves the historical events through the eyes of his main characters as they struggle to survive the injustices and strife that war brings.
Digital Journal: Tell me something about your novel Tendrils of Life.
Owen Choi: Acute food shortages and lawlessness plague communist-occupied Seoul at the start of the Korean War in 1950. Jimin, a sixteen-year-old boy, aches to return to the safety of his old home on Ockdo (Jade Island), a remote island he'd left five years earlier. But only his father, who is absent from home, knows the way.
His adversary, a man who's been plotting to wipe out Jimin's family and steal their island, murders Jimin's mother and tries to eliminate him, forcing him to traverse the war-torn country on foot with his seven-year-old sister to find his father. But the war sweeps across the country multiple times and hinders them from meeting up with their father.
Back in Seoul, with Chinese troops (who invade the country to prop up the communists) bearing down on them, Jimin is forced to join the army, leaving his sister alone, hungry, and homeless in the cold, bomb-devastated city. During a long march, Jimin succumbs to hunger and fatigue and is left to die at a roadside house. He is rescued by a girl he loves, but the war, his adversary, and personal misfortunes continue to thwart his goal of returning to his island with his girl, father, and sister. He miraculously survives a massacre and an epidemic of relapsing fever and undergoes other gut-wrenching trials. He finally stumbles on his father, who is very ill with tuberculosis, and he must overcome formidable obstacles to return to Ockdo.
With action and suspense, Tendrils of Life is a rich and intriguing upmarket fiction, interwoven with gripping character-oriented narratives and full of visual detail. It's a story of love and hope, greed and revenge, and the quest for survival in the turmoil of war - a depiction of resilience of the human spirit.
Digital Journal: What genres would Tendrils of Life fall under?
Owen Choi: Historical, literary, upmarket fiction
Digital Journal: What kind of readers will it appeal to?
Owen Choi: Readers who want to read a real-life story.
Readers who enjoy literary fiction.
Readers who want to be transported into the world the book presents.
Readers who want to identify with sympathetic characters.
Readers who want to be emotionally touched.
Readers who want to understand a different world and culture, as well as how war affects human lives.
Digital Journal: What inspired you to write the book?
Owen Choi: I was a child during the Korean War and my family was heavily impacted by it. And I always wanted to write about that time and studied fiction writing, reading tons of literary fiction (mainly American and British novels). For many years I collected data and tried to recollect my childhood memories as well as my lifetime experiences; these are indirectly reflected in the novel. The main characters are fictitious, but some minor characters were derived from my relatives. Many people who have read my book think it is written from my heart; others think it is my personal biography despite the fact that I am too young to be the main character.
Digital Journal: Please share your favorite excerpt from the book.
Owen Choi: They entered the plot through an opening behind the house and looked at the grapevine. There were some dead stems, but one of them had survived and was standing knee high among the weeds, swaying in the wind without any support.
“You see those tendrils?" she said. "They are outstretching to grab something to coil themselves around. As if they have souls. Swaying in the wind, sensing the air out. You see how two green tendrils stretch out from each node, just like the antennae of a cricket? Isn’t this so mysterious and wonderful? Because there are no trees, the vine can survive by crawling on the ground, but it’s trying so hard to stand upright. Just like humans.” She paused and gazed at him. “If the roots and stems and leaves can be compared with our bodies, the tendrils are like our souls. They are like our desire to reach out, desire to cling to something—friendship, love, hope—and to be accepted in the society, to be associated. Like our yearnings. Without them, we are nothing. We can’t live without these tendrils of life. I think you and I have been trying to grab each other in our darkest moments.”
Digital Journal: Tell us about yourself.
Owen Choi: I was born in South Korea, and came to the United States in 1972. I worked in various fields of computer software, most notably in computer networking, and took an early retirement from a technical leadership position at IBM. I now devote my time to writing my second novel. Although I studied engineering and became an engineer, writing fiction was always my passion from my childhood days, inspired by the works of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and others.
Digital Journal: What is your marketing strategy for your book?
Owen Choi: I plan to stay with Amazon's KDP Select. The free promotion helps expose my book to people.
Digital Journal: If you were given one wish to make a change in the world, what would it be?
Owen Choi: I would wish for a world without wars.
Digital Journal: Do you have anything you would like to say to Digital Journal readers?
Owen Choi: Readers are the masters and authors are servants. What can a servant say to the master?
Digital Journal: What is next for you?
Owen Choi: I am writing a second novel. But it will take time because I always strive for perfection.
Find more about Owen Choi and Tendrils of Life at: