“This story of the unlikely meeting of two vulnerable women is a beautifully woven page turner. The battle-weary woman and the pin-up girl who meet, connect, separate: each changed by the brief union.” --Heather Morris, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz
A dazzling work of historical fiction, based on true events, about two women who seem the most unlikely to ever meet: Alice, a Korean war survivor and translator for the American forces in Seoul and Marilyn Monroe, who is visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour.
February 1954. Although the Korean War armistice was signed a year ago, most citizens of Seoul still battle to return to some semblance of normalcy. Conditions are dismal. Children beg for food, and orphanages are teeming. Alice J. Kim, a Korean translator and typist for the American forces still sanctioned in the city, yearns for the life she used to live before her country was torn apart.
Then Alice’s boss makes an announcement—the American movie star Marilyn Monroe will be visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour, and Alice has been chosen as her translator. Though intrigued, Alice has few expectations of the job—what could she and a beautiful actress at the peak of her fame possibly have to talk about? Yet the Marilyn she meets, while just as dazzling and sensual as Alice expected, is also surprisingly approachable.
As Marilyn’s visit unfolds, Alice is forced into a reckoning with her own painful past. Moving and mesmerizing, The Starlet and the Spy is a beautiful portrayal of unexpected kinship between two very different women, and of the surprising connections that can change, or even save, a life.
Lee's heartbreaking debut riffs on true events to tell the story of a brief connection between Marilyn Monroe and a Korean War survivor. Kim Ae-Sun has changed her name to Alice J. Kim, and in early 1954, less than a year after the cease-fire, she's working as a typist and translator at an American military base in Seoul. When Marilyn comes to visit the troops that remain in the country, Alice is assigned to escort her to various functions, helping with organizing and translating. Observing and interacting with the glamorous movie star does little to soothe Alice's memories of the loss of her youthful self, her two prewar lovers, and a child she had taken into her care after escaping a refugee camp. The atrocities of war including the battles of her country and the bitter conflict within herself continue to sear Alice's thoughts after she's located by one of her ex-lovers during Marilyn's tour, and when she realizes he had worked as a spy, her world is shaken again. The presence of Marilyn doesn't dominate the story, but when she helps Alice to face despair simply by the force of her personality, her impact is as dramatic as her short life. This is a well-told historical snapshot, but at the center is the author's convincing portrayal of the pain Alice experiences. Lee's touching examination of the long shadow of a war cast over one woman will leave readers intensely moved.