The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020).

E. J. Koh Book Cover
The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020). 

The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. 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.

As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the loss and destruction her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love?

The Magical Language of Others weaves a profound tale of hard-won selfhood and our deep bonds to family, place, and language, introducing—in Eun Ji Koh—a singular, incandescent voice.

“Koh’s book is a tremendous gift. . . . A wonder.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“A moving portrait of abandonment, forgiveness, and the strength of maternal love.” —TIME

“Stunning.” —Alexander Chee, author of How To Write An Autobiographical Novel

“Koh remarkably and beautifully translates the language of mothers as the language of survivors.” —Don Mee Choi, author of DMZ Colony

“A haunting, gorgeous narrative that is lonely but lushly told. . . . Brilliant.” —Star Tribune

“A beautiful, scorching memoir.” —Chicago Review of Books

“Weaving the handwritten Korean letters, the English translations and longer chapters recounting her own story intertwined with those of the women who came before her, Koh (who is now based in Seattle) renders a uniquely beautiful work of literature.” —The Seattle Times

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