Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s “The Evening Hero” examines the life of a doctor forced to leave Korea to start again in America.
The Evening Hero, by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, writer-in-residence at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, and an instructor in the Undergraduate Writing Program, is a novel that follows the life of a Korean immigrant, Dr. Yungman Kwak, by moving back and forth between the past and the present.
For the last 50 years, Kwak has worked at Horse Breath’s General Hospital, where, as an obstetrician, he treats the women and babies of his small, rural Minnesota town. He arrived in America after the Korean War, forced to leave behind his family, ancestors, and village. But his life is built on a lie, and one day, a letter arrives that threatens to expose it. Yungman’s existence is thrown into chaos, as he begins to question the assumptions on which his life is built—the so-called American dream, with the abject failure of its health-care system, patients and neighbors who perpetuate racism, and a flawed town.
Lee discusses the Evening Hero with Columbia News, as well as how essential reading is for writers, which books she recommends for end-of-summer reading, and her ideal dinner guests.
Q. What inspired you to write this book?
A. This book took me 18 years to research and write, so it changed quite a bit. But from the beginning, I was curious about exploring if it’s ever too late to try to find meaning in life—hence, the “evening hero” of the book’s title. After the 2016 election, and watching the rise in anti-Asian hate, I looked more explicitly at how racism and trauma inform everyday life, even for someone who thinks he doesn’t experience much racism at all.