Suki Kim Bares the Scars of Her 2014 ‘Memoir’

A fantastic TNR essay.

SukiKimCoverUnder the headline “The Reluctant Memoirist,” South Korean-born author and TNR contributing editor Suki Kim has shared some fascinating perspective on her 2014 book Without You, There Is No Us. The book recounts Kim’s experiences as an ESL teacher in North Korea, where she ventured undercover in 2011 to glean an insider’s view of the secretive country.

Although the cover of Kim’s New York Times bestseller (pictured; click to enlarge) displays the words “A Memoir,” that was at the time and remains to this day something the author is not comfortable with:

In reexamining a terrible tangle of a situation, one can sometimes pinpoint that single moment when everything went wrong. During my decade-long research, I had always feared that this would happen in North Korea, where I would have no control over my fate. As it turned out, the moment took place in New York City, after I had finally finished my draft. Six months before publication, my editor sent over the design for the book cover. Something caught my eye: Below the title were the words, “A Memoir.”

I immediately emailed my editor. “I really do not feel comfortable with my book being called a memoir,” I told her. “I think calling it a memoir trivializes my reporting.” Memoir, after all, suggests memories – the unresolved issues of the past, examined through the author’s own experiences. My work, though literary and at times personal, was a narrative account of investigative reporting. I wasn’t simply trying to convey how I saw the world; I was reporting how it was seen and lived by others.

My editor would not budge…

Kim also delves into what she feels was a double standard put forth by many of the reviews for her book, and admits the whole post-publication experience fomented a lot of anger.

Jacket cover courtesy: Crown