Review: MiJa | Mark Atkinson

Originally published on Reedsy Discovery

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Upon reading the synopsis I knew Atkinson’s MiJa had the potential to be reminiscent of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko – a story about a Korean family who emigrate to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea – with the promise of capturing the experience of one family during times of joy, hardship and sorrow. MiJa primarily follows the eponymous MiJa from her childhood to her elderly years, with the geopolitical landscape of Korea altering dramatically in this time – through Japanese occupation, World War Two, puppet governments with strings pulled by the USA and the North/South divide. There are glimmers of hope, tragic moments of torment, and grief too heavy for a family to carry without consequence.

Atkinson’s storytelling is good, especially considering the length and breadth of MiJa’s story. His characterisation of MiJa’s youth was engaging and the characterisation of her mother, Boknam, was sublime. The choice of a prologue and how much or how little to reveal was brilliant too; it is meaningful and purposeful. Atkinson also employs multiple narratives at times to widen the scope of the narrative – enriching our understanding of and empathy for MiJa’s family and the people of Korea. The only disappointment is the swift narrative turn and jump towards the novel’s resolution. This felt rushed and in drastic contrast to the pacing previously.

Nonetheless, MiJa’s story was moving and Atkinson furthers this by continuing to include the narrative paths of secondary characters too, until the very end. MiJa is for readers who enjoy rich storytelling which spans generations, it is for those who wish to read tales which centre family, loss and fortitude, and it is especially perfect for readers intimidated by colossal reads such as Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Atkinson’s writing is digestible and thoroughly enjoyable.

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