The Hive and the Honey: Stories

Image of The Hive and the Honey: Stories
Release Date: 
October 10, 2023
S&S/ Marysue Rucci Books
Reviewed by: 

"masterful. . . . Anyone trying to understand Korean history and culture, the heavy toll that wars and occupation can take on a land, will be enriched by reading this collection."

This collection of stories features very different characters and plots across centuries, but they all deal with displacement, disconnection, loneliness, and isolation. These are the themes of the Korean people through the ages. Yoon is masterful in how he tells individual stories, each utterly distinctive, as emblematic of a cultural whole.

There's a broad range of characters, starting with a young man just released from a correctional facility. His memories of home intertwine with his new experiences in New York, meeting other people looking for community. The story ends on a hopeful note:

"And as he stood there in the moonlight beside her, light on his heels, the air sweet-smelling, the wind, he suddenly felt that he had come a long way and that something great was going to happen to him, maybe not tonight or tomorrow, but soon. And he concentrated on it, wanting to make the feeling last as they talked through the last hour of the night."

Another story features a Japanese samurai delivering a Korean boy who has long been a hostage back to Korean control. The story is told from the soldier's point of view while still showing us clearly the child's experience:

"I say, 'Do you not remember? We took you. You had no say in this. We picked you up from the arms of your dead mother. We took you in like an animal and bathed you and fed you and dressed you up and made you shoot arrows into apples to make people laugh and feel a moment of joy. We pitied you. We don't even know how to speak your language. You don't even know how to speak your language. We took that away from you. You should hate us. Why don't you hate us? You can now be who you should have been, with the people you have always been with.'"

But the boy crumples up into a miserable ball, not eager for his new home at all. After all, the only culture and language he has known is Japanese. How can he suddenly turn into a Korean? It's a story that encapsulates much of the Korean experience under Japanese domination.

Other stories focus on people in the Korean diaspora desperately trying to hold on to their culture.

"And almost every day, Eunhae was aware that she was living a life she could neither have conceived of nor made sense of two decades ago. Where was that girl now?"

The children of these displaced people also feel the tug of their home culture, desperately wanting their parents to tell them stories about life in North Korea. But all they hear is silence.

Those that return to war-torn farms in Korea, trying to bring new life to ravaged landscapes, bring their own silences, their own wounds. One man, going back to his old farm, finds nothing but utter isolation for years.

"It was more than half in ruin, as was most of the land, the soil upturned and dried out. Deep craters were everywhere. Pieces of rubber and metal. He spotted the bones of animals, some of them likely belonging to the goats that used to roam here, and he wasn't sure why but he spent the rest of the day gathering them, the bones, even before he stepped inside."

Anyone trying to understand Korean history and culture, the heavy toll that wars and occupation can take on a land, will be enriched by reading this collection. These are stories that stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.