• The Magical Language of Others

  • A Memoir
  • By: E. J. Koh
  • Narrated by: E. J. Koh
  • Length: 4 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (48 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A tale of deep bonds to family, place, language - of hard-won selfhood told by a singular, incandescent voice.

After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji’s parents return to Korea for work, leaving 15-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in the family’s new California home. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself in a world made strange in her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters over the years seeking forgiveness and love - letters Eun Ji cannot understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box. 

The letters lay bare the impact of her mother’s departure, as Eun Ji gets to know the woman who raised her and left her behind. Eun Ji is a student, a traveler, a dancer, a poet, and a daughter coming to terms with not only her parents’ prolonged absence but her family’s history: her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre. Where, Koh asks, 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 is a fearless and poetic mind grappling with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma - conjuring an epic saga and love story between mothers and daughters spanning four generations.

©2020 E. J. Koh (P)2020 Blackstone Publishing

What listeners say about The Magical Language of Others

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Magnanimous Memoir

Magnanimity. It has been several years since a book compelled me to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning finishing it, and yet E.J. Koh’s extraordinary, magnanimous memoir, The Magical Language of Others, did just that. Eun Ji’s recounting of her relationship with her mother and family over the last 20 or so years exhibits power and grace in poetic (not surprising, given her experience and success as a poet) prose.

I particularly enjoyed the description of Eun Ji’s recounting of her experiences persevering, coming of age, and ultimately triumphing. Her journey to forgiveness is a paradigm of magnanimity. Even more riveting, the parallels raised by her description of the lives of her grandmothers brought to mind the incredible writing and stories of Min Jin Lee (Pachinko), Krys Lee (Drifting House) and Crystal Hana Kim (If You Leave Me). I could not offer higher praise.

One of Eun Ji’s mother’s letters offers the advice that “[w]hat we see changes according to what we look for.” In The Magical Language of Others, I was looking for a moving story. The book beautifully offers that and then some. It will undoubtedly touch common elements in each reader’s experience, while at the same time providing a poignant context of one woman’s (and one family’s) history, experience, love and compassion.

Finally, a note on the audiobook (I so wanted to finish the book to see what became of the Koh family that I purchased it as well): E.J. Koh’s reading of her own memoir is heartbreaking at times, calming at others, and riveting throughout. Highly recommend, and I’m overjoyed that this was my first read of 2020.

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All over the place

I got this book because it is part of my doctoral class memoir requirement. I was interested because I am good friends a Korean American and am familiar with the Korean culture. I found this book a little all over the place. I can read between the lines but the books was hard to follow. I had to listen to it in little snapshots. The narrator is slow, I sped it up to 1.3 to be more enjoyable.

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Delightful read

This was such a delightful listen that I must follow up with a read. I loved the letters E.J received from her 엄마 the most. Thankyou E.J Koh for sharing a part of yourself, it was an honor.

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Love this book so much

I’m honestly not a big reader but I read this in 2 days time. I will recommend this to all of my friends!!

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A dense capsule of gorgeousness and life

When I started this book I thought to myself it’s way denser than what I had expected it to be. But oh my god the language, the peculiarities of the mixtures of Korean and American cultures, and Eun Ji’s mother’s letters. Oh so heartbreaking and beautiful. This was like a trip to a whole other world for me, and it shook me by the heart.