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Author Jimin Han on Missing People, Second Chances, and Stubborn Characters

Friday, July 28, 2023

Book jacket biographies don’t tell us nearly enough about the authors we love. That’s why Zibby Mag launched the Author Snapshot, giving readers an inside look at the lives and work of our favorite writers.

This week we are featuring Jimin Han, whose novel The Apology releases on August 1.

What was the inspiration behind your new book The Apology? What personal connection do you have to this story?

Oh my goodness, there’s such a long answer to that question. To start with, I have this memory of seeing my great-aunt fall apart at her son’s grave when I was a kid. It really stayed with me. We don’t show a lot of emotion in our family—contrary to all the K-Dramas that show Koreans letting it all out—so to see her so devastated was shocking to me. And then my mother died in 2016, and I was writing a lot about grief and missing her. When Covid hit in early 2020, my friend Brian was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer and there was just this devastation all around us. We met each week on Zoom—he lived in California—and tried to write as if we both were running out of time. I was so scared during lockdown. Writing was a way to escape the fear and uncertainty, and Jeonga was a fun character to write because she thinks she knows everything. My mom had that same determination that Jeonga has, and my mother’s sister is the same way. I was lucky to have tough women as role models, and they made their way into the book to Jeonga and her sisters.

What themes did you want to explore in The Apology?

I seem to be preoccupied with missing people. In A Small Revolution, Yoona’s boyfriend is missing, and now in The Apology it’s Jeonga’s sister. Such a hole is left when you don’t know what has happened to someone. I guess I’m interested in that absence. Not knowing terrifies me—it’s one of my biggest fears. Another theme might be second chances. Who is to say we know everything about someone? I love to be surprised by people really doing the right thing. Like so many of us, I’m trying to be optimistic. Some people might need a nudge but maybe, for all our sakes, we can be better, do better?

What drew you to the afterlife and the decision to incorporate a ghost story of sorts into the book?

Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior made such an impact on me when I was young. I really related the similarities in her book to stories my mother told me when I was growing up. But also, I guess, I wanted to face fears I had head on, and death was a big one in the past few years. So I thought, why not tackle that? If it happened to Jeonga at 105 years old, so what? What would she do? She wouldn’t let death stop her. Making her a ghost opened up the whole book.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Apology?

Such a good question. I’d say I hope they can laugh with fondness at how stubborn Jeonga is, how judgmental, but they can appreciate how fiercely she loves her family. We’ve all been through so much recently so I hope this book can bring some joy. Even when we think there’s some obstacle in our way—and some things have been really daunting and continue to be—if we just persevere, there’s a good chance we will find a way forward together.

What are some of the books you’ve recently read and loved?

Oh, it’s so hard to name just a few. There are so many. So if I were to limit it to the past four months:

A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

Sea Change by Gina Chung

The War Begins in Paris by Theodore Wheeler