Reviews

What people are saying about Sonju:

Sonju got a starred Kirkus review!

Yes, that’s a star you only notice if you go to the Kirkus website
And here is the review:
Kirkus Review for Sonju by Wondra Chang

This revealing, passionate account of a young woman’s coming of age, achievement of maturity, and discovery of emancipation is written from the heart. More than merely a story of love and betrayal, loss and sacrifice, it also offers an allegory for the emergence of South Korea as a significant player in the game of nations. Sonju’s “flowering,” in a sense, her journey of self-discovery is watered by the tears of pain and the gut-wrenching experience as she is dragged almost physically from a primitive world of repressive tradition and subjugation, a prescribed life deeply rooted in antiquity into a bewildering world of rapidly evolving modernity and change. Her story is, in a way, Korea’s story, and her pain, in so many ways, reflects Korea’s pain as a nation divided by artificial lines and fiercely debated social and political convictions, as it struggles to protect its identity, its values. This tale tears at the heart, reminding us of the mutability of fortune, the fragility of life, and teaches us that, ultimately, we must each define ourselves, determine our destinies, without counting the cost. Carefully written, rendered in prosaic watercolor, Sonju will sober every reader’s perception of the common humanity that motivates us all to be better, to do more, to achieve all we can through confidence and determination and belief in ourselves.

–Clay Reynolds, author of The Vigil, Agatite, Franklin’s Crossing, Ars Poetica, Monuments, and The Tentmaker.

Chang gifts us with an epic pulsing with life, fevered with longing, brimming with hope, and coursing with humanity. It’s the kind of writing and storytelling that will settle into your heart, your soul, your very bones. 

—Brian Petkash, author of Mistakes by the Lake

In this debut novel of epic scope, Wondra Chang offers an insightful exploration into post-WWII South Korean life through her portrayal of Yu Sonju, a miscast woman who comes of age at a time when her family and others of her class cling to a culture that suppresses women’s dreams and ambitions. Chang, a former psychotherapist, takes us to a place in the world that has recently become more visible to Western audiences due to the success of South Korean films such as the award winning Parasite and Cho Nam-Joo’s bestselling novel, Kim JiYoungBorn 1982. Chang, however, in a story largely set in Seoul, provides a vivid picture of South Korea as it once was and a place well on its way to becoming the country we know today, rendered through the perspective of a woman who struggles to find a place for herself in her native land. Despite the suffering she endures, Sonju’s story is one of triumph made possible through the relationships she develops with the women she meets along her journey, and eventual success as a writer and businesswoman in a male dominated world. Chang has written a deeply-moving novel that will expand the worldview of readers from all backgrounds. 

—Reggie Scott Young, author of Yardbirds Squawking at the Moon

One of feminism’s many challenges is to express it in fiction without yielding to the temptation to oversimplify or overdramatize its evolution within individual women, and within those women’s social and cultural milieus. When those milieus are unfamiliar to most readers, the difficulties can be compounded. Sonju does a masterful job of guiding the reader through all of this.

Sonju herself is a young Korean woman who comes of age in the 1940’s while her country is subjected to Japanese rule. She submits to a hasty, inferior marriage to protect her family’s status, then tries to be resigned and loyal while still trying to find her own way. Relationships within her new family, the Korean War, her husband’s infidelity, her decision to leave him and return to the lover of her youth all serve to slam doors shut behind her. She is even forbidden all contact with her daughter, a loss that torments her ever after. At the same time, what lies ahead is nothing she planned and nothing she knows how to manage. Without overt or artificial drama she leads the reader through the thoughtful renovation of her life, and, at the same time, the slow evolution of her country.

Without the usual spectacle of such a Cinderella-seeming story, Sonju rings with truth and realism. The reader never questions the harshness of the culture nor her commitment to it. The reader admires the small but steady steps she and Korea make together. This story is truly one of a kind, unforgettable, and deeply satisfying.

—Kathryn Berck, author of The HostageThe SuppliantThe Hunter, and The Good Kinsmen

Wondra Chang delights us with a story of family, love and the search for happiness. Here is a journey filled with romance, tragedy, and intrigue, a journey worth taking. Enjoy.

—Jose Antonio Rodriguez, author of This American Autopsy

Pitting a woman’s passion against life-crippling traditions, Wondra Chang does for South Korea what Thomas Hardy did for the English countryside. Chang’s debut opens in Seoul in 1946, when Sonju is almost 20 and the nation is poised on the edge of war and modernization. Her strict parents force her to marry a well-off stranger in the country, though she has long loved a poor, fatherless man committed to an equal union. But Sonju was not made to be a sacrificial lamb on the altar of family “honor.” With a style direct and lyrical, Chang’s debut moved me so viscerally that I wept through the last third. You won’t be the same after reading this courageous and powerful novel.

—Janet Benton, author of Lilli de Jong