A rarity among first, second, or even tenth collections, Kim maintains enviously superb quality throughout the dozen stories, in which she varies geographies (Korea, California, France), time periods (18th century to the future), and multiple generations.
Winner of the 2020 Drue Heinz Literature Prize
Winner of the 2021 PEN/Robert Bingham Prize/Fellowship
Exploring what it means to be human through the Korean diaspora, Caroline Kim’s stories feature many voices. From a teenage girl in 1980’s America, to a boy growing up in the middle of the Korean War, to an immigrant father struggling to be closer to his adult daughter, or to a suburban housewife whose equilibrium depends upon a therapy robot, each character must face their less-than-ideal circumstances and find a way to overcome them without losing themselves. Language often acts as a barrier as characters try, fail, and momentarily succeed in connecting with each other. With humor, insight, and curiosity, Kim’s wide-ranging stories explore themes of culture, communication, travel, and family. Ultimately, what unites these characters across time and distance is their longing for human connection and a search for the place—or people—that will feel like home.
Caroline Kim’s masterful short story collection captures myriad voices with nuance and insight.
During Kim’s search for books about Korea, she found few answers. Since then, there’s been a burst of English novels and memoirs set in Korea, both written in English originally and translated from the Korean. The connections Kim sought seem to now be coming though, and she’s added a selection of her own here.
Kim finds the real drama in the characters’ inner lives, where they struggle with what they feel but can’t or don’t want to articulate.
The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories is an extraordinary collection, and the title story alone is an astonishing feat, a fictional imagining of a haunting episode at court in medieval Korea, the problem of a prince who tries to murder his way out of his father’s unhappiness with him. The collection takes us in stories across the Korean diaspora, from ancient Korea to the Korean War to Korean Americans living in America in the recent past, the present, and even the future. [Caroline Kim] has a devastating sense of dramatic timing, a keen ear for dialogue, and experiments constantly, with structure, minimalism, science fiction, historical fiction, returning always with insight, intelligence, and an expansive sense of their characters’s humanity, which in turn points us to our own. These characters will live in my head a long time. And the prince is etched in my imagination forever.
Caroline Kim’s captivating story collection gathers an entrancing variety of voices spread across time and place. These diverse viewpoints reveal cohesive threads that address clashes of culture, of generations, of relationships, of history, carrying us from 18th-century Korea to the Korean War and our own contemporary then future world, and strikingly reflects us all in riveting microcosms of story. Deeply moving and affecting, these stories and their heartfelt characters will linger long after the last page is turned.
Caroline Kim’s The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories communes with the hanfulness of Korean heritage, an inherited sorrow that never resolves but transforms into new language. From the Korean-English rendering, its own work of translation, to the historical recollection as well as the futuristic therapy robots, Kim blends genre and form for daring conversions, as if a scientist who conducts experiments on the essential truths of humanity.
Caroline Kim was born in South Korea. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award and an MA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was nominated by Jellyfish Review for a 2019 Best of the Net award. Kim lives in Walnut Creek, California with her husband and three children.