Blog Tour – Book Review – The Korean Word for Butterfly by James Zerndt

Korean Word for ButterflyThe Blurb:

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

When she looked down at her shoes, she half-expected to see a puddle.

But there was nothing.

Just the flickering of the memorial candles.


Set against the backdrop of the 2002 World Cup and rising anti-American sentiment due to a deadly
accident involving two young Korean girls and a U.S. tank, The Korean Word For Butterfly is told from three alternating points-of-view:

Billie, the American looking for adventure with her boyfriend who soon finds herself questioning her
decision to travel so far from the comforts of her old life;

Moon, the ex K-pop band manager struggling to maintain his sobriety in hopes of getting his family

And Yun-ji , a secretary whose new feelings of resentment toward Americans may lead her to do something she never would have imagined possible.

The Korean Word For Butterfly is a story about the choices we make and why we make them.

It is a story, ultimately, about the power of love and redemption.

* Warning: This novel, in part, deals with abortion. The book tries to remain impartial and is not intended as any kind of morality tale. If the subject matter offends you, this may not be the book for you.*

The Review:

This book was fascinating and a real eye opener. It made me consider the way we are viewed overseas, even in countries where we maintain, “a friendly, mutual military presence.”

This book evokes deep thoughts and deep emotions. The characters are so easy to identify with and the problems they face aren’t small ones, they are big ones. Some are caused by life choices, but others are caused by societal pressures, both good and bad.

This book was rich and complex. At no point was I certain what any character would do. I loved them all, rooted for them all and shared their joys, heartaches, triumphs and failures.

I would have liked a little more about the culture of Korea. In many ways it was too easy to forget you were reading a book set in a different country. Only the constant reminders of the tank incident and the emotions it evoked in people made the fact it was set in Korea stay forefront in your mind. I would have liked more of sights, sounds and smells of Korea. I would have liked to immerse myself in these details as I read the story.

I felt Billie and Joe were probably typical of the people who go to Korea to teach. They are self absorbed to certain degree. They don’t seem to identify much with the suffering of those around them. They are rather insulated. They don’t make a real attempt to learn the language of the people they are there to teach. The children do not share the Korean words for body parts as they learn the English ones. The school rule is that no Korean is to be spoken there – English only, so no true cultural appreciation has a chance to take root. Sadly this is probably often the case.

I loved the character of Yun-Ji. She represented a really neat package where she wants the Americans to understand the Koreans as much as the Koreans understand the Americans. She wants them, if they are there, to care. She wants them to learn her language instead of just having Korea want to have their people learn English. She either wants them to share the human experience that Korea means or to be gone. She wants compassion from them, from us.

I definitely recommend this reading, especially if you like books that are deep with subtle undertones, and are searching for an understanding of how we appear to other people, even allies, throughout the world.

About the Author:Jamie Z.James Zerndt lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son. His fiction has most recently appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal and SWINK magazine.


About Tracy Riva


  1. Teddy says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Karean Word For Butterfly!

  2. Jamie says:

    What a thoughtful, wonderful review. Thank you so much.

Speak Your Mind