There are very few trees in this book. Certainly not a thousand. But it’s still an appropriate book for fall. Mostly because it talks about death and how to deal with it. Indirectly of course. Autumn is the season if you’re looking for how to deal with death and loss; nature (and trees in particular) deals with it so beautifully.
One Thousand Chestnut Trees discusses the death of a nation and a family. The nation: unified Korea. The family: the aristocratic Min clan. Korea is torn apart by Japanese occupation, a world war, and a civil war, one right on the heels of the next. The Min clan disintegrates under the same trials. Remnants of both remain, of course, but the loss is always present with those left to pick up the pieces.
Loss has been an impacting part of my life this fall, so the weather and this novel were particularly poignant for me. The novel begins from the viewpoint of Anne, the Korean-American granddaughter. A recent university graduate and struggling artist, she returns to South Korea to search for her family’s lost estate and clues to the past of this family she’s never known. Then we hear from Anne’s mother, who experienced World War II and the Korean War in adolescence before leaving Korea for America. In the final layer, we look through the eyes of Anne’s grandfather, who grew up during the harshest part of Japanese occupation. Grandfather dreams of a free and reunited Korea, but his country remains as separated as his family becomes, and he dies in bitter disappointment. Mother never returns to her homeland, losing contact with her family for most of her life while unable to connect on a deep level with her Asian-American daughter. And Anne, who travels to Korea with hopes of enlightenment about who she is, meets many disappointments as she learns about her family’s lost fortunes and members.
Despite the theme of loss, the book leaves the reader with a sense of hope (also something I love about fall). The coming of winter and holidays fills me with hope despite nature’s death all around. Similarly, Anne learns that those who have gone before us can still impact those of us who remain, even if we never met them, and that the vibrations of the past are constantly shaking and shaping the present.
If you’re looking for beauty in the midst of loss or for an interesting historical fiction piece on Korea, One Thousand Chestnut Trees is an excellent choice.
Pages: 319 FOA Pages: 31,357