Crystal Hana Kim on Never Knowing the Full Story of People We Love
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
Jordan talks with Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me, about the ultimate unknowability of another person’s story, about motherhood as a writer, and about how a friend’s validation and encouragement helped her get serious about her craft.
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The Korean War • Post-partum depression • Reproductive justice • Ceramics class
From the episode:
Jordan Kisner: Something I walked away with, was feeling like depending on who meets this woman and at what point in her life, she seems just like such a completely different person. In a way only the reader can know, can sort of see the through line of her soul. Like how she is at 16 and then how she is as a mother and then how she is as a mother of four. She seems so inscrutable in many ways to her daughters and the impossibility that the daughters can really understand their mother because they can’t have been there for her whole life. But we get to be there kind of for her whole life. So we can see why she is who she is.
Crystal Hana Kim: Yes, I think that that is something that fascinates me every single day. The fact that we will never know anyone that we love in a full capacity and that…I am a very different person when I’m around my parents and my sister, I regress when I go visit my family versus when I’m around my son or my friends and that’s so fascinating that a person can have all of these different relationships and be a slightly different version of themselves in those relationships because of the back and forth of what that other person brings out in them. It’s something that I think about often—this sense of sadness that we won’t ever know someone we love fully. Especially in this generational aspect.
I will never know the full story of who my mother is or who my father is. And my kid will never know the full story of me. I don’t think it has to be sad, but it’s something that I often return to. Something wonderful about fiction is that in a novel, like the way that I shaped my novel, with these alternating perspectives, you are able to follow the trajectory of this one character, Haemi, and understand why she acts so differently through the ages and with different people.
Crystal Hana Kim is the author of If You Leave Me, which was a Booklist Editor’s Choice title and named a best book of 2018 by over a dozen publications. Kim is the recipient of the 2022 National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and is a 2017 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize winner. Currently, she is the Visiting Assistant Professor at Queens College and a contributing editor at Apogee Journal. Her second novel, The Stone Home, is forthcoming from William Morrow / HarperCollins. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family.