"In this immersive, erudite memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee unspools her long- buried family history; centrally, her grandfather’s imprisonment in Japanese- occupied Korea." - Vanity Fair

“Absorbing...Starry Field reminds us that even knowing where we came from won’t tell us where we’re going - but it will help along the way.” Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise

A poignant memoir for readers who love Pachinko and The Return by journalist Margaret Juhae Lee, who sets out on a search for her family’s history lost to the darkness of Korea’s colonial decades, and contends with the shockwaves of violence that followed them over four generations and across continents.



 As a young girl growing up in Houston, Margaret Juhae Lee never heard about her grandfather, Lee Chul Ha. His history was lost in early twentieth-century Korea, and guarded by Margaret’s grandmother, who Chul Ha left widowed in 1936 with two young sons. To his surviving family, Lee Chul Ha was a criminal, and his granddaughter was determined to figure out why. 

Starry Field: A Memoir of Lost History chronicles Chul Ha’s untold story. Combining investigative journalism, oral history, and archival research, Margaret reveals the truth about the grandfather she never knew. What she found is that Lee Chul Ha was not a source of shame; he was a student revolutionary imprisoned in 1929 for protesting the Japanese government’s colonization of Korea. He was a hero—and eventually honored as a Patriot of South Korea almost 60 years after his death.

But reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, in the end, isn’t what Margaret finds the most valuable. It is through the series of three long-form interviews with her grandmother that Margaret finally finds a sense of recognition she’s been missing her entire life. A story of healing old wounds and the reputation of an extraordinary young man, Starry Field bridges the tales of two women, generations and oceans apart, who share the desire to build family in someplace called home. 

Starry Field weaves together the stories of Margaret’s family against the backdrop of Korea’s tumultuous modern history, with a powerful question at its heart. Can we ever separate ourselves from our family’s past—and if the answer is yes, should we? 


20 memorable photographs will be included.
Preface
 
ORIGIN STORY
 
Once upon a time there was a girl who was born in a country where she didn’t feel at home. She looked different than everyone else, she ate different foods. People asked her questions like “Where are you from?” When she answered “Houston,” they would ask, “No, where are you really from?”
 
Ten years old, and the girl traveled to the country of her parents’ birth—she didn’t feel at home there, either. She could understand some of what people were saying, but she could only speak in phrases, like a toddler. Her grandmother had taught her the language of her forebearers when she was little, but her parents spoke English to her at home, at the advice of the pediatrician who said, “She will fall behind in school if you don’t.”
 
The girl grew up, forgot her grandmother’s language, went to college, tried a couple of careers, and settled on journalism. She decided to investigate the mystery of the grandfather she never knew, the one who went to prison and died when her father was a baby. She started by asking her grandmother questions, questions her grandmother didn’t want to answer.
 
The girl decided to visit the country of her parents’ birth again, this time alone. She wanted to solve the mystery of who her grandfather had been by finding the police and interrogation records her grandmother burned during the Korean War. The records that branded him as a teenage Communist revolutionary who protested Japanese rule.
 
After years of classes, the girl could now read and speak a bit of her parents’ language. However, she realized that she needed to hire a translator and speak English to be taken seriously by the men who could help her find her grandfather’s records.
 
The girl eventually found her grandfather’s records, even though they were not where they were supposed to be. She brought them back to her father in the United States. They were the best present she could ever give him—except for grandchildren. She began to write a book about her search for lost history but put it down when life intervened. She picked it up again but was unable to finish it before her parents died.
 
***
 
WHEN OUR DAUGHTER KIKI WAS in kindergarten, I’d climb into her loft bed to do bedtime. My husband Steve exceeded the weight limit, so I would snuggle in with Kiki while he read to our son Owen, whose bed was closer to the ground. Most of the time I forgot to bring a book, so I made up stories to tell her.
 
There were tales of the Wonder Twins, siblings I remembered from childhood cartoons who harnessed their superpowers by touching their rings together. The twins rescued cats from trees, walked old ladies across the street. They cooperated instead of bickered, unlike Kiki and Owen.
 
“The Ten Thousand Bears” was a clear rip-off of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, my favorite childhood story, except in my telling Goldilocks had dark hair and wandered off from home to discover an enormous cave with ten thousand beds to choose from instead of three. In the end, Goldilocks decided to leave her birth family and live among the community of bears since she was so lonely at home.
 
They all lived happily ever after.
 
WHEN THE KIDS WERE IN preschool, I started again on my book about my grandfather. The one I abandoned when I got pregnant. I rewrote the whole thing off the top of my head during a generative writing workshop that met once a week—no notes, research, or outlines to guide me. I just wrote what flowed out from my hand to the pen and onto the lined paper of my giant spiral-bound notebook. All that material had soaked in since 2000, the year I traveled to Korea in search of my grandfather’s prison records. Back then, I uncovered facts about my grandfather Lee Chul Ha’s short life—his interrogation transcripts, the list of books he read while imprisoned, the secret code he devised to communicate with his Communist comrades—but what permeated my very being were the stories my grandmother, Halmoni, told me before she died. They embedded themselves into my body and became part of who I was—a granddaughter, a daughter, and finally, a mother.
 
I needed to release them from my body.
 
So here it is, Kiki and Owen, here’s my origin story. The one that took me over twenty years to write. There were, of course, interruptions. I moved back to the Bay Area after returning from Korea. My first agent left the publishing business. I met your father. We got married, had Owen and then, two years later, Kiki. Then came busy family life—thousands of Lego pieces, hundreds of soccer practices, long drives to Portland to visit Grandma and Grandpa, trips to Korea, lingering sicknesses, untimely deaths, crash courses in finance and estate law, and the almost unbearable gravity of grief.
 
My story is one I hope you can let seep into your being. For my story is our story, and involves the reclamation of the lives forgotten and seemingly buried forever in our ancestral homeland.
Electric Lit 75 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2024

"Her poignant memoir describes their shared journey of knowledge and healing." - New York Times Book Review

"In this immersive, erudite memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee unspools her long- buried family history; centrally, her grandfather’s imprisonment in Japanese- occupied Korea." - Vanity Fair

"An international yet intimate account of a family member whose life would have been lost in a sea of forgetfulness were it not for her diligent dedication to discovering the truth --- a truth that brings honor and hope to those remaining…STARRY FIELD will attract a wide readership --- those who feel deprived of a true home and may be inspired like Lee to seek emotional refuge, and those who will admire and share the tale of one woman’s courageous sentiments and her willingness to act upon them." - The Bookreporter

"this winding investigation of long-buried family secrets succeeds" — Publishers Weekly

"Engaging, intriguing...[Starry Field is] a poignant reclamation of a hidden history, leavened by a sense of personal growth and understanding.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A gallery of photos and documents richly illustrates the scope of the historical setting of the memoir. The narrative threads back and forth in time (with some fanciful embroidering of events), stitching a vivid account of a country, a family, and individuals grappling with the past in order to make sense of the future. While many in power in Korea today would rather leave the past unexcavated, Margaret Juhae Lee demonstrates that looking back can be a way to move forward.” - Washington Independent Review of Books

"Lee’s memoir stands uniquely as an inspiring dedicated journey worth reading." - The Daily Texan

“This reconstruction of the lives of Lee’s paternal grandparents is absorbing as much for what is discovered as for what remains undiscoverable.  Almost three quarters of a century ago, on the eve of the invasion of her nation, a mother burned every trace she held of her children’s dead father, explaining to her son, “you never know what will happen:  history is the proof.” Starry Field reminds us that even knowing where we came from won’t tell us where we’re going - but it will help along the way.” — Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise

"With the propulsive force of a mystery, Margaret Juhae Lee guides us through the maze of her family’s lost histories, revealing secrets, shaping narratives, and, as she tracks into the past, pulling her present into sharp focus. Starry Field is a probing, companionable tale about the search for self and home by a fiercely observant, funny, and important writer." — Sabina Murray, PEN/Faulkner-winning author of Valiant Gentlemen

"In this heartbreaking memoir, the power of a single, searing curiosity about an ancestor’s refusal to be silenced by colonial powers unlatches the lockbox to reveal a trove of long-buried family mysteries and reminds us of the courage it takes to strip away the scaffolding of our stories in the service of truth. Starry Field is memoir at its purest—the quest nested in the question becomes the story and the journey is one you don’t want to miss." — Putsata Reang, award-winning author of Ma and Me: A Memoir

“Starry Field is a magnificent tapestry of memory, testimonial, and family history woven with a deft hand and abounding care. Lee's work is the most precious gift a writer has to offer.” — Joseph Han, author of Nuclear Family
 
“Clear-eyed and heartfelt, Starry Field is an important story from an urgent and necessary voice.” —Matthew Salesses, author of The Sense of Wonder

"Gorgeously written and meticulously researched, Starry Field is at once a detective story and an coming-of-age memoir. Lee shows us that the heroes in our family stories are not always who we think they are.” —Carol Smith, author of Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life

“Deftly weaving extensive research with her own emotional journey, Lee resurrects the severed threads of her grandfather’s past. Starry Field is an act of devotion, a testament to how the present can be healed by addressing the ruptures of history.” — Tessa Hulls, author of Feeding Ghosts: A Graphic Memoir

A mesmerizing memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee’s Starry Field charts the course of her family’s storied past. With the propulsive narrative of a mystery novel, illuminated by meticulous research and captivating prose, Lee explores the love, loss, and resilience of hidden heritage and familial bonds. Gorgeously written and emotionally resonant, Starry Field is more than a memoir—it’s a celebration of the enduring strength found in unexpected places. — Rose Andersen, author of The Heart and Other Monsters: A Memoir
Margaret Juhae Lee is an Oakland-based writer and a former literary editor of The Nation magazine. She has been the recipient of a Bunting Fellowship from Harvard University, and a Korean Studies Fellowship from the Korean Foundation. She is also a Tin House scholar, and has been awarded residencies at the Mesa Refuge, the Anderson Center, and Mineral School. In 2020, she was named “Person of the Year” by the Sangcheol Cultural Welfare Foundation in Kongju, South Korea, for her work in honoring her grandfather, Patriot Lee Chul Ha. Her articles, reviews, and interviews have been published in The Nation, Newsday, Elle, ARTnews, The Advocate, The Progressive and The Rumpus. View titles by Margaret Juhae Lee

About

"In this immersive, erudite memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee unspools her long- buried family history; centrally, her grandfather’s imprisonment in Japanese- occupied Korea." - Vanity Fair

“Absorbing...Starry Field reminds us that even knowing where we came from won’t tell us where we’re going - but it will help along the way.” Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise

A poignant memoir for readers who love Pachinko and The Return by journalist Margaret Juhae Lee, who sets out on a search for her family’s history lost to the darkness of Korea’s colonial decades, and contends with the shockwaves of violence that followed them over four generations and across continents.



 As a young girl growing up in Houston, Margaret Juhae Lee never heard about her grandfather, Lee Chul Ha. His history was lost in early twentieth-century Korea, and guarded by Margaret’s grandmother, who Chul Ha left widowed in 1936 with two young sons. To his surviving family, Lee Chul Ha was a criminal, and his granddaughter was determined to figure out why. 

Starry Field: A Memoir of Lost History chronicles Chul Ha’s untold story. Combining investigative journalism, oral history, and archival research, Margaret reveals the truth about the grandfather she never knew. What she found is that Lee Chul Ha was not a source of shame; he was a student revolutionary imprisoned in 1929 for protesting the Japanese government’s colonization of Korea. He was a hero—and eventually honored as a Patriot of South Korea almost 60 years after his death.

But reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, in the end, isn’t what Margaret finds the most valuable. It is through the series of three long-form interviews with her grandmother that Margaret finally finds a sense of recognition she’s been missing her entire life. A story of healing old wounds and the reputation of an extraordinary young man, Starry Field bridges the tales of two women, generations and oceans apart, who share the desire to build family in someplace called home. 

Starry Field weaves together the stories of Margaret’s family against the backdrop of Korea’s tumultuous modern history, with a powerful question at its heart. Can we ever separate ourselves from our family’s past—and if the answer is yes, should we? 


20 memorable photographs will be included.

Excerpt

Preface
 
ORIGIN STORY
 
Once upon a time there was a girl who was born in a country where she didn’t feel at home. She looked different than everyone else, she ate different foods. People asked her questions like “Where are you from?” When she answered “Houston,” they would ask, “No, where are you really from?”
 
Ten years old, and the girl traveled to the country of her parents’ birth—she didn’t feel at home there, either. She could understand some of what people were saying, but she could only speak in phrases, like a toddler. Her grandmother had taught her the language of her forebearers when she was little, but her parents spoke English to her at home, at the advice of the pediatrician who said, “She will fall behind in school if you don’t.”
 
The girl grew up, forgot her grandmother’s language, went to college, tried a couple of careers, and settled on journalism. She decided to investigate the mystery of the grandfather she never knew, the one who went to prison and died when her father was a baby. She started by asking her grandmother questions, questions her grandmother didn’t want to answer.
 
The girl decided to visit the country of her parents’ birth again, this time alone. She wanted to solve the mystery of who her grandfather had been by finding the police and interrogation records her grandmother burned during the Korean War. The records that branded him as a teenage Communist revolutionary who protested Japanese rule.
 
After years of classes, the girl could now read and speak a bit of her parents’ language. However, she realized that she needed to hire a translator and speak English to be taken seriously by the men who could help her find her grandfather’s records.
 
The girl eventually found her grandfather’s records, even though they were not where they were supposed to be. She brought them back to her father in the United States. They were the best present she could ever give him—except for grandchildren. She began to write a book about her search for lost history but put it down when life intervened. She picked it up again but was unable to finish it before her parents died.
 
***
 
WHEN OUR DAUGHTER KIKI WAS in kindergarten, I’d climb into her loft bed to do bedtime. My husband Steve exceeded the weight limit, so I would snuggle in with Kiki while he read to our son Owen, whose bed was closer to the ground. Most of the time I forgot to bring a book, so I made up stories to tell her.
 
There were tales of the Wonder Twins, siblings I remembered from childhood cartoons who harnessed their superpowers by touching their rings together. The twins rescued cats from trees, walked old ladies across the street. They cooperated instead of bickered, unlike Kiki and Owen.
 
“The Ten Thousand Bears” was a clear rip-off of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, my favorite childhood story, except in my telling Goldilocks had dark hair and wandered off from home to discover an enormous cave with ten thousand beds to choose from instead of three. In the end, Goldilocks decided to leave her birth family and live among the community of bears since she was so lonely at home.
 
They all lived happily ever after.
 
WHEN THE KIDS WERE IN preschool, I started again on my book about my grandfather. The one I abandoned when I got pregnant. I rewrote the whole thing off the top of my head during a generative writing workshop that met once a week—no notes, research, or outlines to guide me. I just wrote what flowed out from my hand to the pen and onto the lined paper of my giant spiral-bound notebook. All that material had soaked in since 2000, the year I traveled to Korea in search of my grandfather’s prison records. Back then, I uncovered facts about my grandfather Lee Chul Ha’s short life—his interrogation transcripts, the list of books he read while imprisoned, the secret code he devised to communicate with his Communist comrades—but what permeated my very being were the stories my grandmother, Halmoni, told me before she died. They embedded themselves into my body and became part of who I was—a granddaughter, a daughter, and finally, a mother.
 
I needed to release them from my body.
 
So here it is, Kiki and Owen, here’s my origin story. The one that took me over twenty years to write. There were, of course, interruptions. I moved back to the Bay Area after returning from Korea. My first agent left the publishing business. I met your father. We got married, had Owen and then, two years later, Kiki. Then came busy family life—thousands of Lego pieces, hundreds of soccer practices, long drives to Portland to visit Grandma and Grandpa, trips to Korea, lingering sicknesses, untimely deaths, crash courses in finance and estate law, and the almost unbearable gravity of grief.
 
My story is one I hope you can let seep into your being. For my story is our story, and involves the reclamation of the lives forgotten and seemingly buried forever in our ancestral homeland.

Praise

Electric Lit 75 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2024

"Her poignant memoir describes their shared journey of knowledge and healing." - New York Times Book Review

"In this immersive, erudite memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee unspools her long- buried family history; centrally, her grandfather’s imprisonment in Japanese- occupied Korea." - Vanity Fair

"An international yet intimate account of a family member whose life would have been lost in a sea of forgetfulness were it not for her diligent dedication to discovering the truth --- a truth that brings honor and hope to those remaining…STARRY FIELD will attract a wide readership --- those who feel deprived of a true home and may be inspired like Lee to seek emotional refuge, and those who will admire and share the tale of one woman’s courageous sentiments and her willingness to act upon them." - The Bookreporter

"this winding investigation of long-buried family secrets succeeds" — Publishers Weekly

"Engaging, intriguing...[Starry Field is] a poignant reclamation of a hidden history, leavened by a sense of personal growth and understanding.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A gallery of photos and documents richly illustrates the scope of the historical setting of the memoir. The narrative threads back and forth in time (with some fanciful embroidering of events), stitching a vivid account of a country, a family, and individuals grappling with the past in order to make sense of the future. While many in power in Korea today would rather leave the past unexcavated, Margaret Juhae Lee demonstrates that looking back can be a way to move forward.” - Washington Independent Review of Books

"Lee’s memoir stands uniquely as an inspiring dedicated journey worth reading." - The Daily Texan

“This reconstruction of the lives of Lee’s paternal grandparents is absorbing as much for what is discovered as for what remains undiscoverable.  Almost three quarters of a century ago, on the eve of the invasion of her nation, a mother burned every trace she held of her children’s dead father, explaining to her son, “you never know what will happen:  history is the proof.” Starry Field reminds us that even knowing where we came from won’t tell us where we’re going - but it will help along the way.” — Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise

"With the propulsive force of a mystery, Margaret Juhae Lee guides us through the maze of her family’s lost histories, revealing secrets, shaping narratives, and, as she tracks into the past, pulling her present into sharp focus. Starry Field is a probing, companionable tale about the search for self and home by a fiercely observant, funny, and important writer." — Sabina Murray, PEN/Faulkner-winning author of Valiant Gentlemen

"In this heartbreaking memoir, the power of a single, searing curiosity about an ancestor’s refusal to be silenced by colonial powers unlatches the lockbox to reveal a trove of long-buried family mysteries and reminds us of the courage it takes to strip away the scaffolding of our stories in the service of truth. Starry Field is memoir at its purest—the quest nested in the question becomes the story and the journey is one you don’t want to miss." — Putsata Reang, award-winning author of Ma and Me: A Memoir

“Starry Field is a magnificent tapestry of memory, testimonial, and family history woven with a deft hand and abounding care. Lee's work is the most precious gift a writer has to offer.” — Joseph Han, author of Nuclear Family
 
“Clear-eyed and heartfelt, Starry Field is an important story from an urgent and necessary voice.” —Matthew Salesses, author of The Sense of Wonder

"Gorgeously written and meticulously researched, Starry Field is at once a detective story and an coming-of-age memoir. Lee shows us that the heroes in our family stories are not always who we think they are.” —Carol Smith, author of Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life

“Deftly weaving extensive research with her own emotional journey, Lee resurrects the severed threads of her grandfather’s past. Starry Field is an act of devotion, a testament to how the present can be healed by addressing the ruptures of history.” — Tessa Hulls, author of Feeding Ghosts: A Graphic Memoir

A mesmerizing memoir, Margaret Juhae Lee’s Starry Field charts the course of her family’s storied past. With the propulsive narrative of a mystery novel, illuminated by meticulous research and captivating prose, Lee explores the love, loss, and resilience of hidden heritage and familial bonds. Gorgeously written and emotionally resonant, Starry Field is more than a memoir—it’s a celebration of the enduring strength found in unexpected places. — Rose Andersen, author of The Heart and Other Monsters: A Memoir

Author

Margaret Juhae Lee is an Oakland-based writer and a former literary editor of The Nation magazine. She has been the recipient of a Bunting Fellowship from Harvard University, and a Korean Studies Fellowship from the Korean Foundation. She is also a Tin House scholar, and has been awarded residencies at the Mesa Refuge, the Anderson Center, and Mineral School. In 2020, she was named “Person of the Year” by the Sangcheol Cultural Welfare Foundation in Kongju, South Korea, for her work in honoring her grandfather, Patriot Lee Chul Ha. Her articles, reviews, and interviews have been published in The Nation, Newsday, Elle, ARTnews, The Advocate, The Progressive and The Rumpus. View titles by Margaret Juhae Lee

Videos from the 2024 First-Year Experience® Conference are now available

We’re pleased to share videos from the 2024 First-Year Experience® Conference. Whether you weren’t able to join us at the conference or would simply like to hear the talks again, please take a moment to view the clips below.   Penguin Random House Author Breakfast Monday, February 19th, 7:15 – 8:45 am PST This event

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FROM THE PAGE: An excerpt from Margaret Juhae Lee’s Starry Field

Starry Field is a poignant memoir by journalist Margaret Juhae Lee, who sets out on a search for her family’s history lost to the darkness of Korea’s colonial decades, and contends with the shockwaves of violence that followed them over four generations and across continents.   Preface ORIGIN STORY Once upon a time there was a

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