Sook Nyul Choi’s Year of Impossible Goodbyes is the first book in Year of Impossible Goodbyes series. The other books in the series are Echoes of the White Giraffe (1993) and Gathering of Pearls (1994). Published in 1991, it is set in 1945 Korea and highlights the lesser discussed imperial power, Japan’s military occupation of Korea. As the story goes on, other foreign powers enter the country: most notably, Russia. The book follows the life of ten year old Sookan and her family who has to face innumerable cruelties under the new regime which is juxtaposed by the solemn courage of the child protagonist from whose perspective the readers are introduced to an insidious reality filled with unspeakable horrors.
The primary antagonist seems to be Police captain Narita who have made it his personal mission to destroy everything that the family holds dear, but they persist beyond all odds even when they are separated and living a life that can no longer be called theirs. Sookan's father has joined a resistance movement in Manchuria grounded firmly in the belief that once the Japanese are gone, they can go back to their “normal” life. But once the war ends, the short-lived happiness is overshadowed by the communist Russia taking control of North Korea.
The only beacon of hope left is to migrate to American control South Korea. Needless to say, the goal is no longer to go back to their old life but escaping hardships and oppression. Firmly grounded in socio-political turmoil, this book in its core is about the love of a family and their journey to find freedom.