This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park – Book Review

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
Published by Simon & Schuster

Life is good for Soo-Ja Choi, although she is not really content. The strong-willed young woman is determined to go to Seoul to become a diplomat, against the wishes of the father who loves her and wants to keep her close. Soo-Ja believes she has found a way to get what she wants when Min, a weak, impressionable man, asks for her hand in marriage. She is positive she can convince him to go with her to Seoul, but once they are wed it becomes apparent that Min is not the man he represented himself to be. Before long, Soo-Ja finds herself aware of just how different life could have been had she instead married Yul, the handsome young student activist who proposed to her during her engagement to Min.

When Yul asked that single yes or no question – Come with me – and she said no, Soo-Ja did not know what she was saying no to. She did not know the size and weight of the consequences, how life is not set down like train tracks, and you don’t just ride above it. The life she had could not be that different from the one she could have had, she had thought. I am the same person, surely the story unfolds roughly the same way?… We’re only given one life, and it’s the one we live, she had thought; how painful now, to realize that wasn’t true, that you would have different lives, depending on how brave you were, and how ready. Love came to her that day – she was twenty two – and wanted to take her, and she said no. -p. 245

This Burns My Heart is an exquisite debut novel from Samuel Park. Park manages to bring Soo-Ja to life in a compelling way, despite the fact that the novel jumps months and years at a time. No matter what circumstances occurred in the intervening time, Soo-Ja was always just as dynamic as she had previously been. This is a function both of Park’s strong characterization, but also of his vivid and poetic use of language.

Soo-Ja realized at that moment that the biggest luxury in life was the ability to make plans, to count on the future as if it were something pinned down on a map. -p. 111

In addition to his strength in characterization and prose, Park’s plotting was top-notch. He knows exactly how long to spend in any various period of Soo-Ja’s life to balance sufficient detail with the need to keep the plot moving forward. Of course, like any debut, This Burns My Heart isn’t perfect. Scattered in three or four passages throughout the book were parenthetical statements that would have worked better either incorporated straight into the text or eliminated altogether. Of course, the weakness of these parentheticals was only as apparent as it was due to the strength of the rest of Park’s writing, so the inclusion of, at most, five unsatisfactory sentences is hardly even to be considered a weak point.

All in all a stunning novel, Samuel Park is a writer to watch and I highly recommend that you start by reading This Burns My Heart.

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10 comments to This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park – Book Review

  • I don’t remember ever reading a book with a setting in Korea. I would luv to read this one. Nothing like picking the wrong guy. Poor girl. Luved part of the words in your review.

    “how life is not set down like train tracks, and you don’t just ride above it.”

  • Kathy from Bermuda Onion gave me a copy of this and now I really can’t wait to read it – it sounded great anyway, but now I’ve read a positive review I’m particularly excited!

  • I totally agree – I rooted for Soo-Ja the whole time, and couldn’t wait to find out how it all turned out. It’s beautifully written, and a story well-told.

    So glad you are my book twin!

  • Pam

    Wow, this sounds really incredible and very well done. I’ve heard nothing of it until now but I’m going to have to find it.

  • This sounds like an outstanding debut. You’ve made me excited about it.

  • Jenny

    Hmm I’m a little over 50 pages through this book wand wasn’t really sure that I was going to like it which was disappointing because I was so excited about it. I feel lire encouraged that I should keep reading!

  • This review has me adding this book to my “to be read” list ASAP!! Sounds like a great read.

  • Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as you did. I felt like the author spent way too much time telling us how hard Soo-Ja’s life was, and never quite got around to showing us why. The writing was mostly quite lovely, however, and I might give the author another try based on that.