The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories
WINNER OF THE 2020 DRUE HEINZ LITERATURE PRIZE
Finalist, Northern California Book Award
Finalist, Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize
Longlisted for The Story Prize
A 2021 Great Groups Read
Exploring what it means to be human through the Korean diaspora, Caroline Kim’s stories feature many voices. From a teenage girl in 1980’s America, to a boy growing up in the middle of the Korean War, to an immigrant father struggling to be closer to his adult daughter, or to a suburban housewife whose equilibrium depends upon a therapy robot, each character must face their less-than-ideal circumstances and find a way to overcome them without losing themselves. Language often acts as a barrier as characters try, fail, and momentarily succeed in connecting with each other.
With humor, insight, and curiosity, Kim’s wide-ranging stories explore themes of culture, communication, travel, and family. Ultimately, what unites these characters across time and distance is their longing for human connection and a search for the place—or people—that will feel like home.
The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories is an extraordinary collection, and the title story alone is an astonishing feat, a fictional imagining of a haunting episode at court in medieval Korea, the problem of a prince who tries to murder his way out of his father’s unhappiness with him. The collection takes us in stories across the Korean diaspora, from ancient Korea to the Korean War to Korean Americans living in America in the recent past, the present, and even the future. [Caroline Kim] has a devastating sense of dramatic timing, a keen ear for dialogue, and experiments constantly, with structure, minimalism, science fiction, historical fiction, returning always with insight, intelligence, and an expansive sense of their characters’ humanity, which in turn points us to our own. These characters will live in my head a long time. And the prince is etched in my imagination forever.”
- ALEXANDER CHEE, author of How to Write an
Autobiographical Novel, The Queen of the Night, and Edinburgh
"A rarity among first, second, or even tenth collections, Kim maintains enviously superb quality throughout the dozen stories, in which she varies geographies (Korea, California, France), time periods (18th century to the future, and multiple generations.
- TERRI HONG, Christian Science Monitor
In a Kim story, one quickly becomes invested in both the telling and the outcome. Plot helps in this bargain because it sweeps up Kim’s characters, especially women, placing and rooting them in one surprising, often war-savaged, location after another. The polish of Kim’s prose also deepens and enriches the journey.
- ROBERT McDOWELL, The Hudson Review
Kim is a gifted writer of tremendous range—each story conjures a world unto itself.
- TAYLOR GRIESHOBER, Pittsburgh Quarterly
Caroline Kim’s captivating story collection gathers an entrancing variety of voices spread across time and place. These diverse viewpoints reveal cohesive threads that address clashes of culture, of generations, of relationships, of history, carrying us from 18th-century Korea to the Korean War and our own contemporary then future world, and strikingly reflects us all in riveting microcosms of story. Deeply moving and affecting, these stories and their heartfelt characters will linger long after the last page is turned.
- E.J. KOH, author of The Magical Language of Others and A
They are impressive in breadth—they cross generations, eras, they are told in first person, second person, third person, and are structured in various forms—epistolary, flash, epic, even quasi-historical fiction. They are set in places that span the globe, from the suburbs of Boston and rural New England to California to the rue de Turenne in Paris to farmland in Korea to vast Montana to a village in Thailand to Seoul during the Korean War and back again. Her stories are about the discord that exists between these intersections, and how mutual understanding is forged alongside this tension. They are also about pride and regret, the wonder and failure of language, the bizarre nature of consumer culture, the precarious walls between familial bonds. They are about what we can and can’t choose for our lives, the ways in which our bodies pursue our own histories. Her stories show us what power exists when you look twice, and about how movement can save you.
- KATE WISEL, author of Driving in Cars with Homeless
While perhaps intended to work as a book primarily about Korean experiences, the themes and struggles of the characters, while resonating particularly with the particular audience, are also universal. Each individual character is emphasized as their own person in a sea of persons. Each navigates their culture or cultural mix in their own unique way, and each comes to their own thoughtful conclusions on the world. As each story ends, we are left with an impression of the protagonist. The story ends, but the character does not. Each still lives on in the mind, their own complete person in our thoughts.
-PHILIP CLAPPER, Heavy Feather Review
Caroline Kim's The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories communes with the hanfulness of Korean heritage, an inherited sorrow that never resolves but transforms into new language. From the Korean-English rendering, its own work of translation, to the historical recollection as well as the futuristic therapy robots, Kim blends genre and form for daring conversions, as if a scientist who conducts experiments on the essential truths of humanity.
- EUGENIA KIM, author of The Kinship of Secrets and
The Calligrapher's Daughter