When Jid Lee was born in South Korea in 1955, it was into a country in crisis. Only two years had passed since the Korean War armistice, and the wounds were still fresh and gaping. Families had been divided, often forever, by the creation of separate North and South Koreas, and the survivors of the schism fought to put their lives back together after the horrors of half a century of warfare and political oppression. Interweaving her five-generation family saga with the major Korean historical events of the last century, Jid Lee illuminates the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the Korean War and tackles such difficult and provocative topics as the Comfort Women of World War 2, the thirty-five-year Japanese occupation of Korea, the advent of Christianity and the political problems that blossomed with its arrival, and the My Lai-esque massacre at No Gun Ri, a story that has been covered up for sixty years and is only just coming to light.
In this story of triumph against overwhelming odds, Lee captures the struggles of the men and especially the women in her family to achieve, to receive recognition, and to fight against the injustice of a centuries-old system. A kaleidoscopic narrative of one woman's life, five generations of her family, and a country's tumultuous history, To Kill a Tiger is a compellingly intricate and startlingly authentic synthesis of history and literature.
Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize winning writer, said on Oprah that she started to write because she was afraid she would die if she didn't. I started to write To Kill a Tiger for the same reason. I wouldn't be surprised if there are to this date less than a dozen people in the whole world who know what happened in Korea before, during, and after the Korean War. That the political decisions of a superpower can shape the life of a little girl in a small country named Korea is the gist of what I had to write in To Kill a Tiger.
I wrote To Kill a Tiger to prevent war. I devoted my blood, sweat, and tears to build a bridge between nations and peoples, between men and women, and between governments and grass-roots communities.
When I was a small child, my grandmother told me about the genies in a mountain, the comic-looking monsters in a Korean legend who like to test a human being's ability to tell a story. She said, "Genies waylay a traveler in the night to demand a story. When they tell them a good story, they give them gold. When they tell them a poor story, they kill them." In To Kill a Tiger, I modified this legend to bring a sense of humor. I said they give you shit when you tell them a poor story.
My audiences, I think, are these genies who will give me either gold or shit. To be able to receive gold from them, I tried to write a good story. In 320 pages, I describe twenty four years of my life in Korea, a personal narrative that mirrors a panorama of modern Korean history.