Translations of Beauty maps the tender yet tumultuous relationship of twin sisters Inah and Yunah, from their early years in South Korea to their coming-of-age in Queens, New York. At the heart of the narrative -- told from Yunah's intimate, engaging point of view -- is an unforgettable event from their childhood: an accident that disfigured Inah for life, and the overwhelming sadness and guilt Yunah feels at having been spared. Now that Inah and Yunah are adults, each in search of her own identity while trying to remain true to traditional family values, they must find a way to negotiate their past and become the people they dare -- and dream -- to be.
Emotionally charged and thought-provoking, Translations of Beauty is an insightful saga of the immigrant experience that will resonate with all readers.
Yun's first novel is every bit the tale of an immigrant's child, struggling to please traditional parents while carving out a place in a strange new world. But the narrator of this story, Korean-born Yunah, is overshadowed less by memories of the homeland than by her twin sister, Inah, whose forceful personality and inner demons are the focus of Yunah's narrative. The mismatched twins Inah sparkling and mischievous, Yunah quiet and observant are four years old when an accident leaves Inah with a burn-scarred face. Their parents decide to emigrate from their small Korean village, hoping to provide better opportunities for Inah, and the family ends up in Flushing, Queens, "a stopover place on the way to the Real America." Flushing, however, becomes their permanent residence, with the twins' father unable to find well-paying work elsewhere. Meanwhile their mother becomes more demanding, pushing Inah to make up for what she sees as the impossibility of normal happiness. The stories of youth in Flushing alternate with Yunah's present-tense account of a visit to Italy to see Inah, now a tomboyish, defensive graduate school dropout traveling aimlessly around the world. At 28, the twins are still struggling to connect after years of resentment, though there are moments of clarity when Yunah begins to understand her tormented twin. The rambling episodes may leave the reader wishing for a more decisive narrative arc, more introspection from Yunah, or more than the familiar-sounding platitudes about the nature of immigrant life, unhappy families and finding one's own way. Still, the novel will have an appeal for readers with their own experiences of displacement, and the despair of two sisters for whom opportunity has festered into hopelessness is convincingly portrayed.