Reader’s Guide

  1. What was your expectation as a reader after you read the first page?
  2. How would you describe Sonju?
  3. What characters stood out for you and why?
  4. Anger plays a big role in Sonju’s life. Her anger began with the humiliation of succumbing to her mother and to the occupiers. How do these early experiences shape her thinking?
  5. Sonju’s views of places and people change over time. Discuss why this is important to the story.
  6. There are two suicides in this book. How does Sonju justify Kungu’s suicide and how does Lady Cho deal with her guilt about her husband’s suicide?
  7. What aspects of the human cost of war does Sonju worry about most even before she reconnects with Kungu?
  8. How did Sonju come to understand that she was her mother’s best understood child? How are Sonju and her mother similar to each other? How are they different?
  9. What images and actions happen repeatedly?
  10. Sonju is furious about her former husband’s silence about her daughter’s death. She thinks she could have made different life choices if she had known about it earlier. How would her life have been different? In what ways, does the waiting for her daughter sustain her sense of purpose and give her pleasure during the fourteen-year waiting period?
  11. After she learns about her daughter’s death, she puts away the reminders of her daughter (the portrait, the photographs, the letters), but later she feels happy recalling the images she created of her daughter growing up to age seventeen. Discuss Sonju’s particular way of dealing with the loss of a loved one and if this is helpful for others as well.
  12. Sonju has strong views about class, poverty, and women’s place in society. Those issues still remain today even in developed countries. Share your views.
  13. Can Koreans’ attitude toward the Japanese in the book be generally inferred to the pathos of other groups of people who have been historically oppressed?
  14. This book is partly a story of loss, betrayal, and resilience. Sonju says to her childhood friend, Misu, “Who would I have become without having suffered? I don’t remember ever having wanted an easy life.” What are your thoughts about what she says?
  15. The theme of Sonju is that of personal freedom internally attained versus externally given. Is either possible without the other? If so, how and if not, why?
  16. Sonju’s journey in life parallels that of her nation to some degree. How are they similar and different?
  17. In the book, Sonju talks to Kungu even after his death. Toward the end of the book, she tells him that she was fine with all the choices she made in her life. Some were good, some were bad, and many were misguided. That was simply how she did her living. What do you think about her statement?
  18. The book opens in 1946 when Sonju is 19 and ends in 1968 when she is forty-one. How does she change as a person and how does she remain the same? Do you think that is how we evolve over time?