The Interpreter A Novel

Suki Kim




Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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2003 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award Winner

Suzy Park is a twenty-nine-year-old Korean-American interpreter for the New York City courts. During one court case she inadvertently makes a startling and ominous discovery about her family's history that will send her on a chilling quest. Five years earlier, her parents—hardworking greengrocers who forfeited personal happiness for their children's gain—were brutally murdered in an apparent robbery of their store. Or so Suzy believed. But now the glint of this new lead entices Suzy into a dangerous Korean underworld in the hope of unraveling the mystery of her parents' homicide.

Then come the hang-up calls on her answering machine and the anonymous delivery of irises on the anniversary of her parents' death. Suzy tries to reach her estranged sister, Grace, only to find that she has vanished. Grace was last seen renting a boat in Montauk. As Suzy searches for clues to her sister's disappearance, she finds both trails converging to reveal a devastating new perspective on her family's secret past.

A debut novel about the myth of the model Asian citizen and the dark side of the American Dream, The Interpreter traverses the distance between old worlds and new, poverty and privilege, language and understanding.


Praise for The Interpreter

"[With] the small beautiful shiver of sadness . . . [Kim] speaks succinctly of memory, pain, isolation, and regret."—The New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating . . . a seductive allegory spun out in appropriately broken prose that figures translation as detective work."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"More than a murder mystery . . . its fascination lies in how these traditional story lines, so often reassuring and affirming, here unsettle and disturb."—The Boston Globe

"We yearn for images and events that remind us of our immigrant cultures. Cuisine does it deliciously. Fashion does it whimsically. Suki Kim, in her first novel, does it with literary finesse . . . What is powerful and memorable about this book is place—not major metropolitan New York but the Korean community within it . . . Kim brings alive the wounds of the Korean immigrants, exploited by one another as they strain to make lives in this alien America. She describes daughters prevented from solid futures by the injuries of their childhoods. She presents characters one after another incapacitated by loss, incapable of love, inured to violence . . . The Interpreter is an engaging and haunting novel. It lingers in one's thoughts long past the last page."—Nora Seton, Houston Chronicle

"Bold and edgy, haunting and lyrical. In The Interpreter Suki Kim fractures the image of the happy Asian immigrant and reassembles it shard by compelling shard."—Manil Suri

"Kim zeroes in on the debilitating tensions of interpreting between languages, countries, childhood and adulthood, lies and secrets, sex and hurt, anger and love."—The New York Daily News

"Utterly absorbing . . . A stylish and elegant psychological mystery."—The Toronto Globe and Mail

"Suki's work is poetic and visionary, even while dealing with the grimmest of life's tragedies. She sees the world in great detail in terms of images, especially visual, and also delineates the subtle and important dynamics between human beings in a way that can reach transcendence. Her writing has a pristine, other-worldly quality. Suki takes no word, no rhythm, for granted."—Patricia Chao, author of Monkey King, in Korean Journal

"The pleasure of reading a mystery lies in the slow fitting together of jigsaw puzzle pieces, the entire image finally, surprisingly, revealed in the last pages. When the mystery is good, when it is deftly crafted, original and fitted together by a complex, believable and interesting character, the enjoyment is intense. That's the pleasure of The Interpreter, a stunning first novel by Suki Kim . . . Kim's novel quickly grabs us with [a] richly detailed and compelling story . . . In these hauntingly enthralling pages, Kim expertly snaps her debut puzzle together and leaves us anxiously awaiting her next."—Thomas Haley, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Suki Kim's debut novel, The Interpreter, is a melancholy study of a young Korean-American woman's alienation from both her Asian roots and her American environment. It's also a murder mystery. That Kim makes these two aspects of the novel work together suggests that she's a writer to keep an eye on . . . The Interpreter is clearly the work of a gifted writer."—Charles Matthews, The San Jose Mercury News

"Kim has come up with one of the most original and disturbing motives for murder that this reader has ever encountered. It brings into play loyalty, cultural differences, and the sometimes lonely existence of our nations many immigrants."—USA Today

"Outstanding . . . Most admirably, Kim avoids identity politics entirely. She is not interested in ghettoizing her protagonist. Suzy is a character first, a representation of human psychology, one that Kim has studied too carefully to label simply as Korean, or Depressed."—Max Watman, The New Criterion

"In Suzy Park, Kim has fashioned a moody, memorable misfit who both captures our heart and twists our guts in one of the new year's more complex and rewarding novels."—The News-Press

"To readers of this compelling, cryptic novel—[Kim's heroine] Suzy is a gorgeous enigma, simultaneously sophisticated and naïve, corrupt and pure."—Shout

"Part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, the novel grippingly explores damaging trade-offs made by people desperate to survive in a strange new place . . . The Interpreter opens out into vistas of human complexity that will captivate readers from any culture."—The Tennessean

"A sleek, nearly hypnotic glimpse into the world of a Korean family ruptured in translation to America."—Kirkus Reviews

"As the novel progresses, Kim's talents become apparent: a good eye for detail, an excellent prose style, and the ability to create compelling characters . . . This is an intriguing, tortured portrait of a second-generation Korean-American by a promising young writer . . . Few writers chronicle the Korean-American experience, and even fewer are as talented as Kim."—Publishers Weekly

"Kim's debut novel boasts both a heroine who is compelling and likable, despite her faults, and a gripping story."—Kristine Huntley, Booklist

"Kim's spare and often terrifying first novel centers on New York City's Korean community. Rich in detail and grim in outlook, it introduces Suzy Park, a 29-year-old interpreter whose work involves her in a bevy of agencies throughout the five boroughs, from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the criminal courts. Park is blasé about her occupation until a routine translating job reveals that her greengrocer parents were not murdered by random violence, as the police had indicated, but instead had been shot by political enemies. These data provide fodder for Park, and the novel tracks her investigation into what really happened. As she delves, she discovers Korean gangs, gambling and prostitution rings, and an insular culture with its own rules and practices—all intriguing stuff."—Eleanor J. Bader, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Suki Kim

  • Suki Kim was born and raised in South Korea and came to New York at the age of thirteen. Her writing has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Newsweek. She is a graduate of Barnard College and lives in Manhattan.

  • Suki Kim




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