Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 240 pages
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Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim is a memoir from a young Korean War orphan who never knew her father, was shunned as a non-person in Korea, and was subject to further psychological and physical abuse after her adoption.  This woman suffered greatly and mostly in silence for many years before and after her adoption by American, Christian fundamentalists.  The differences between her lush green Korean homeland and her new American desert home reflect the stark demarcations between her old life and being saved.

“There is no record of my birth, or of my name.  There is no record of my mother’s brief life.” (from the Prologue)

Born to a Korean mother, who left her tiny village for Seoul to sing, and an American soldier father, whom she never knew, Elizabeth has no notion of her birth name or date, nor her father’s name.  Her earliest memories are of life as a honhyol, a nonperson of mixed heritage shunned by the Korean culture, with her mother, Omma.  As outcasts in their village, they were subjected to shunning, stone throwing, and other abuses, but they were expected to bow to others and give way to the village leaders, Omma’s father and other family, when walking about.  Omma created a secluded and secure life for her child, though it was not without harsh work in the rice paddies or isolation.  The world they lived in may not have had a great deal of comforts and amenities, but it was certainly filled with calm and love.  In an honor killing, she is left alone in the world and dropped unceremoniously at an orphanage.

“Omma’s brother did all the talking.  He told her the family had discussed the matter again since presenting demands to her that afternoon in the field, and he, his father, and his wife were there to carry out the plan.  A family had offered to take the honhyol–me–into their home as a servant.”  (page 8)

“Sitting in the cage, nails dug deep into my skim, I tried to ameliorate grief by increasing my physical pain.  And just below the awareness of that misery, breathing rhythmically like a monster waiting to devour me, was the knowledge that it was because of me Omma died.  My face and my dishonorable blood had killed the only person I loved and the only person who loved me.” (page 33)

Like her Korean home where women are expected to be subservient to men and obey without question, Elizabeth is whisked across the ocean — to a land her mother described as full of promise — to America and new parents.  Her tiny life has begun again, but darkness descends upon her as she realizes that the American dream she’d thought was there is tarnished by a fundamentalism that snowballs into systematic abuse.  From her abusive parents to her physically abusive husband, Kim’s journey was rough and through it all, she struggled to survive, with the hope that there was freedom and something better in her future.

Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim demonstrates the clash of cultures between foreign adopted children and American homes, particularly homes with fervent religious beliefs, but also the continued discrimination she felt as a mixed race child, despite her father’s American heritage.  In Korea, she was a nonperson, and in America, she is treated in much the same way — leaving her with a battered and nearly non-existent self-esteem.  This dark memoir, however, does not focus on bitterness or resentment, but on how these events and abuses transformed her into a highly ambitious reporter and mother.  While still broken inside, she manages to give her daughter a loving home and stability as a single parent.  Although there are clearly moments of clear hatred of Christianity, particularly in its fundamental form, the novel is more about redemption and acceptance of oneself despite the outside forces that strive to strike us down.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Kim is a journalist and the author of the best selling novel “Ten Thousand Sorrows”, which has been chronicled in O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine.

5th book (Korean War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.



9th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.


  1. This does sound very sad. She definitely had a rough life.
    Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)´s last blog post ..Review: Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies by Stephanie Baumgartner

  2. I’d like to read this. It sounds as though it would be a highly emotional read.
    Darlene´s last blog post ..The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

  3. I want to read this book! I have always wondered about children that are adopted and brought to new countries.. especially at an age where they know what’s happening. This looks like it is going to be a really sad book though.. Thanks for the wonderful review!
    Ramya´s last blog post ..Review: One More Thing – Stories and more stories.

  4. Wow, what a sad life. I’m glad the author was able to find herself in a good place.
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last blog post ..Review: Saints of the Shadow Bible


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