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March 8, 2012

Book Notes - Catherine Chung - "Forgotten Country"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country is a remarkable debut novel, one that profoundly explores our connections to family, friends, and homeland.

Bookreporter wrote of the book:

"Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Catherine Chung's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Forgotten Country:


At the very beginning there was "The Night" by Morphine. I love this song, I love the lyrics, the music, all of it. I used to sing it to my book! "You're the night, Lila. Little girl, lost in the woods. You're the folktale, the unexplainable. You're a bedtime story, the one that keeps the curtains closed. And I hope you're waiting for me, because I can't make it on my own. It's too dark to see the landmarks, and I don't want your good luck charm. I hope you're waiting for me across your carpet of stars. You're everything that we can't see. Lila, you're the possibility." (Okay, it's better with the music, but it was perfect starting-my-book music.)

I wrote much of this book at artists' residencies, and in the first year of this I met a kindred spirit at the MacDowell Colony--an artist named Natalie Wetzel who pressed Regina Spektor's Begin To Hope into my hands. I spent almost every day dancing around my studio to "Fidelity" in my socks. I can't even listen to this song now without thinking about those months I spent in my little studio dancing and writing, when my book seemed to finally start coming together in my mind.

"Imagine" by John Lennon! My mother loved the Beatles when she was growing up, and so did I. I loved listening to them, because I felt like it was a way of being close to my mother's young self. Maybe for that reason, I always think of Korea when I think of the Beatles.

Oh my God, Carla Bruni. My friend Autumn Watts left her CD in my car one day, and I stole it! It was so great to listen to because I don't understand French. So it'd clear my mind, and get me all moody and relaxed in the right way. I loved listening to her after a day of writing, or in the morning when I woke up before a day of writing. "Quelqu’un M’a Dit," "La noyee," and "Le Ciel Dans Une Chambre."

"O-we yówa" by Sidney Boquiren: this piece is amazing. Sidney wrote this for his friend Jennifer Fitzgerald when she passed away, and it's based on mourning/keening rituals. It is so beautiful in an absolutely gut-wrenching, visceral, physical way, and it is also simultaneously ethereal and haunting. When I heard him perform it, it took my breath away and struck a deep chord that resonated with something at the heart of my book.

Other classical pieces I listened to and loved:

Brahms Violin Sonata #1 in G
Chopin's Ballade in g minor and Fantasie Impromptu

Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat." I listened to this song a lot in the years I was writing Forgotten Country. I think the longing in it, the complicated relationship, and the love beneath it--were all things that spoke to me at the time.

"Jockey Full of Bourbon" by Tom Waits. When I needed a break from writing, I cranked this one up. "Hey little bird, fly away home, your house is on fire your children are alone." That's a line he sings from a nursery rhyme, and I don't know why, but I think it's so funny! Maybe because it's so terrible and unhelpful, and because sometimes when I was writing I felt like this was true (even though I have no house and no children!): that my life could fall apart around me and I wouldn't even know it, I was so deep in the book itself.

"The Story" by Brandi Carlile. She sings, "But these stories don't mean anything if you've got no one to tell them to..." I listened to this song when I was in middle of it, unsure of the way forward and if I'd ever get to the other side or if anyone would ever read it.

"Landslide" (the live version) by Stevie Nicks. I was obsessed with this song for almost the entire time I was working on Forgotten Country--everything about it seemed to speak to me about the novel.

"A Town Called Happiness" by Martha Berner. My brother got me an ipod as a birthday present a couple years into the writing of this book, and he sent it to me with a playlist he'd put on it filled with happy music. I loved the whole playlist, but this song especially felt like it would carry me through to a new and more hopeful place, which was perfect for finishing the book.


Catherine Chung and Forgotten Country links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Between the Covers review
BookPage review
Bookreporter review
Brooklyn Daily Eagle review
ELLE review
Kirkus Reviews review
Oprah review
Publisher's Weekly review
So Simply Sara review

BookPage interview with the author
Reuters interview with the author
The Rumpus essays by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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