Set in South Korea during the 1960s, This Burns My Heart centers on Soo-Ja, an ambitious young woman who finds herself trapped in an unhappy, controlling marriage. She struggles to give her daughter a better life and to overcome the oppression of her husband, while pining for the man she truly loves. Ultimately she must make her own way in a society caught between tradition and modernity.
Here are some writing lessons I learned from this book:
- Give a logical reason why the MC makes a life-altering decision: Soo-Ja's poor marriage choice changed the course of her life. Why did she make this bad decision? Ambition. She married a man she didn't love, thinking he was her ticket to Seoul. She believed he'd allow her to be a diplomat, which was her goal in life.
- Cultural details add flavor: I know almost nothing about South Korean culture, and I was fascinated by well-placed details. The wife of the oldest sibling must take care of all the other siblings. Parents of marriage-aged children paid a matchmaker to iron out details of marriage ahead of time, including finances. Sons were coveted, and women went to great lengths to conceive a boy, such as not running, not walking up stairs, and not talking about "serious matters." I felt like I was learning history while also enjoying a captivating story.
- Cultural realities add conflict: in Soo-Ja's world, honor and respect were at the top of the priority list. This dictated what decisions were made, despite the consequences. The duties of each character--daughter, father, elder, and first son--were made clear.
- Use a child as leverage: not only a child, but anything or anyone who matters most to the main character. In Soo-Ja's case, she knew the law would side with her husband and force her to relinquish her daughter if she sought a divorce. This kept her tethered to her husband. As parents, we understand why Soo-Ja would do anything to stay with her child. Freedom at the expense of your child? Unthinkable for most parents.
- When it comes to romance, keep the main players at arm's length: without giving too much away, I'll just say that Park did a great job of keeping Soo-Ja and her true love apart. Not always geographically apart, but they were far apart from what they really wanted, which was to be together. This kept the tension high. All the way until the end, I was rooting for Soo-Ja and Yul to find happiness.
What do you think of these writing lessons? Do they ring true for you? And have you read a book which highlighted a different culture? What cool things did you learn?