SOS Book Club Pick: American Seoul: A Memoir

A heartbreaking journey of self-discovery, this month we explore the life of Helena Rho in “American Seoul.” Let’s dig into this captivating narrative with themes of diaspora, heritage, and finding oneself in a world where borders blur and cultures intersect.

About the South of Seoul Book Club

If you are familiar with the series, skip ahead to learn more about “American Seoul: A Memoir.”

Looking for book recommendations? Welcome to the South of Seoul book club. We recommend a book every month. Such recommended books explore topics like 1) South Korean history or culture, 2) the complexity of cross-cultural life, 4) the exploration of life within the diaspora experience, and 5) lenses on Korean culture around the world.

Commitment to Accessibility

South of Seoul volunteers take book accessibility into consideration when recommending titles. We consider:

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  • Purchasable in English In Korea: Many translated titles can’t actually be purchased in English in Korea,
  • Audio Version Available: Many people find audiobooks easier to consume.
  • Online Versions.: International residents can’t afford to travel with many books. Also, many books may not be available in digital form from within Korea.

Commitment to Diverse Lived Experiences

South of Seoul volunteers seek to put lived experiences at the forefront of their recommendation choices. When considering authors we look for such things as:

  • Korean authors writing about their lived experiences in Korea.
  • International residents writing about their lived experiences in South Korea.
  • Ethnic Koreans writing about their lived experience in other countries.

Reading about Korean culture from a variety of perspectives may provide readers with a greater understanding of the country and culture.

Commitment to Supporting Mental Health

South of Seoul also includes book recommendations that support the lives and mental health of our community. This means that books may tackle the issues related to living between cultures. This may include topics such as culture shock, language, relationships, and more.

Book Recommendation By Melissa Edwards-Whittington

November’s South of Seoul Book Club recommendation, “American Seoul” is brought to you by Melissa Edwards-Whittington of the KimchiRednecks. Edwards-Whittington has lived in Korea since 2017. She and her husband, Chuck, formed the KimchiRednecks YouTube channel to give people living outside of Korea or those coming to Korea, a glimpse of life here in Korea. Together with their three shih tzus, they post weekly videos about places to eat, things to cook, places to visit, or life in general living in Korea.

american seoul: a memoir

About The Author of “American Seoul: A Memoir”

The author of “American Seoul,” Helena Rho is Korean-American. Rho was born in Korea, but moved to Uganda as a child and eventually grew up in the United States. She earned her Doctor of Medicine in 1992 and practiced and taught at many of the top ten children’s hospitals in the states. She also earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Pittsbugh. Her works have been included in many anthologies and she has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize.

My Experience Reading “American Seoul: A Memoir”

Reading “American Seoul” was often heartbreaking as the author shares her personal experiences. Her words often reflect quite a bit of anguish and can feel negative at times. As I read about her life and experiences, I sympathized with her for the trauma that she encountered. Through her narrative, the reader can get a glimpse of what life can be like for someone when their language and culture starts to fade.

Rho’s father was the oldest son of the oldest son in a patriarchal line going back about 500 years. Therefore, this position created quite a bit of expectation on her father, particularly that of having a son. Feeling “shame” from having four daughters, her father decided to move the family from Korea to Uganda when the country welcomed Korean doctors.

Life in Uganda presented difficulties for the family as her parents were uncomfortable speaking English and chose not to speak rather than sound foolish. Rho and her sisters are taught English which causes her to lose her mother tongue. A few years later, her family immigrates to the United States. Rho completes her schooling and becomes the child who follows in her father’s footsteps and becomes a doctor. More difficulties arise for her as she marries and has children. Ultimately, I feel Rho does a great job portraying the difficulties of being born in one country and raised by foreign parents in another.

More Commentary And Reviews On “American Seoul: A Memoir”

The above review contains my thoughts and opinions. However, make sure to read other reviews to have a more rounded perspective toward the book. We all come to each story with our own social/cultural lens. Therefore, others may have perceived this book in a different manner and may help you decide if this is the book for you.

You can purchase American Seoul: A Memoir by Helena Rho in English on Amazon.

Find More Book Club Recommendations

Did you like this recommendation? Be sure to explore our other volunteer-recommended books.

South of Seoul Book Club List for 2023