The Homes We Build on Ashes

Alissa McArthur

Park explores the spiritual resilience of women in the face of colonial and domestic violence.

Christina Park’s contemplative, slow-burning debut novel The Homes We Build on Ashes reaches far—geographically, emotionally, and spiritually. Following the life of a Korean woman named Nara Lee, the novel spans from the Japanese occupation of Korea to late-twentieth century British Columbia. Growing up in colonial Korea, young Nara watches as Japanese soldiers execute her father in front of her eyes. After her mother dies of illness soon after, Nara is sent to live in a dubious orphanage. Through Nara’s difficult journey, Park explores the spiritual resilience of women in the face of colonial and domestic violence.

As Nara encounters various traumas, she constantly re-examines her faith and wrestles with a complex survivor’s guilt. Park considers the role of silence in narratives of trauma through Nara, who is haunted by her own silent witnessing of her father’s murder and her childhood friend Min-joo’s kidnapping. The novel’s centrepiece is Min-joo’s gut-wrenching account of her sexual abuse as a “comfort woman” for the Japanese army. Nara, who feels responsible for Min-joo’s fate, must grapple with the implications of remaining silent about what happened to her friend.

However, the novel at times suffers from overly simplistic generalizations. For instance, we are told that despite deplorable conditions, Nara and her fellow citizens are “able to maintain a harmonious humanity that is always at the core of Korean society.” Park also has a tendency to tell rather than show, which interrupts the narrative flow, pushing the novel into didactic territory. When Nara and her husband Jae-sun are tricked into slave labour at a Japanese factory, Park writes, “The sting of this betrayal coursed through Jae-sun’s veins like venom, and he read the callousness and depravity exactly for what it was: despotism and brutality run rampant.” Later, when Nara is beaten by a factory guard, she “see[s] the metaphor of this act in a microcosm that played out larger across her nation: she was a little morning calm beaten down by a ruthless rising sun.” Instead of giving Nara’s story room to breathe, we are often told how to interpret events.

Still, there are inspired moments in The Homes We Build on Ashes. When a young Nara loses consciousness during a military raid on her school, Park brings Nara through an evocative folk tale-infused dream about an elusive search for home. Nara’s journey eventually takes her across the Pacific, and the homes she painstakingly rebuilds for herself do not come easily. Though flawed, Park’s sensitive exploration of a traumatic history makes The Homes We Build on Ashes an admirable debut effort.

Pre-order Our Next Issue

Room 45.2 Cover

ROOM 45.2 TIPPING POINT
Edited by Lue Palmer
Assistant Edited by Micah Killjoy
Shadow Edited by Ruchika Gothoskar and Omi Rodney

In This Issue: Eberechukwu Peace Akadinma, N.B., Manahil Bandukwala, Chief Lady Bird, Myriam J.A. Chancy, .chisaraokwu., Michelle Contant, Morgan Cross, Jaki Eisman, Ava Fathi, Maria Ford, Jennifer A. Goddard, Michelle Good, Ruchika Gothoskar, Jonsaba Jabbi, Sneha Subramanian Kanta, Micah Killjoy, Moe Kirkpatrick, Lydia Kwa, Margo LaPierre, karen lee, Lynn Hutchinson Lee, Y.S. Lee, Annick MacAskill, Kama La Mackerel, Sarah McPherson, Michie Mee, Zoë Mills, Lue Palmer, Emily Riddle, Alana Rigby, Omi Rodney, Edythe Rodriguez, Victoria Spence Naik, Unimke Ugbong, Nadia Van, semillites hernandez velasco, Dr. Njoki Wane, Yilin Wang, Jenny Heijun Wills, Lacey Yong, Dr. Rachel Zellars, Zhang Qiaohui

Currently on Newsstands

ROOM 45.1, Ancestors
Edited by Serena Lukas Bhandar

In This Issue: Yasmine Ameli, Manahil Bandukwala, Elena Bentley, Meagan Berlin, Serena Lukas Bhandar, Emily Chan, Kathy Crabbe, Asheda Dwyer, francesca ekwuyasi, Mercedes Eng, Lucy Zi Wei Fang, Juliette Blake Jacob, Jessica Jane Khuu, Melissa Kuipers, Holly Lam, Arshiya Malik, Samantha Martin-Bird, Victoria Mbabazi, Nicole Nanayaa M’Carthy, Erin McGregor, Kristin Michelle, Zamina Mithani, Haley Montgomery, Mridula Morgan, Tiffany Morris, Madalyn Murray, Sofia Navarro, Faith Paré, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Maryam Rafiee, Deepa Rajagopalan, Remy Ramirez, Romila, Trish Salah, Jane Shi, jessica ainsli todd, Sara Truuvert, Maneesa Veeravel, Anne Walk, Syrus Marcus Ware, Adrienne Weiss, Evelyn C. White

Join us on Patreon

Become a RoomMate!

Announcing Room’s New Membership Program
Seeking: RoomMates who love literature, events, merchandise, and supporting marginalized creators!

 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Be the first to know about contests, calls for submissions, upcoming events.

* indicates required

Visit our Store

Share This