Sunday, May 12, 2024

Q&A with Crystal Hana Kim



Crystal Hana Kim is the author of the new novel The Stone Home. She also has written the novel If You Leave Me. She is a visiting assistant professor at Queens College, and she lives in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to write The Stone Home, and how did you create your character Eunju?


A: In 2016, I read an Associated Press exposé about reformatory centers in 1980s South Korea. The government wanted to win the bid for the 1988 Olympics, so they secretly sanctioned the police to pick homeless children off the streets. I was struck by the repetition of history, as these sorts of institutions have been created time and again, across cultures and countries.


Eunju is the main narrator and heart of The Stone Home. But she didn’t exist in my first draft.


In the beginning, I thought I was going to write a father-daughter narrative. One day, I was at an artist residency writing in my cabin on a snowy day. I was working on the daughter section, which I felt in my gut was not working. I wasn’t sure why.


I wrote a scene where the daughter was looking at an old photograph of her father in front of the reformatory center where he spent a year of his life. In the photo is also a scowling girl. As I wrote this scene where the daughter wonders who that girl is, I started wondering who that girl was. Eventually, I realized that girl was Eunju, and she had to be my main narrator.

Q: In a review in The Washington Post, the writer Diana Abu-Jaber said of the book, “It asks readers to consider our own secret histories, to allow hard truths to be heard and, in so doing, to never let such barbarity happen again.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it is a perfect encapsulation of what I strived to do through the writing of The Stone Home. Diana Abu-Jaber wrote the review of my dreams.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: My research was varied and intense. I interviewed a survivor of one of the real 1980s South Korean reformatories. His testimonial was integral to my decision to write this book. I also read a lot of texts: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Gitta Sereny’s Into That Darkness, Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.


What surprised me most was the importance of hope and community in resistance.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Titles are so difficult! The Stone Home is the name of the reformatory center my characters are trying to escape. The contrast of the word “stone,” in all its hardness against the softness of ‘home’ reflected the dichotomies within the institution.


I also wanted the title to prod the reader to reflect on the meaning of home. What does home mean to us? Who makes a home? 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am in the early stages of a new novel. It’s exciting and constantly changing its shape. I’m eager to get to know my characters.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Crystal Hana Kim.

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