8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster by Mirinae Lee is a riveting and genre-bending debut of love and survival, set in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.

As playful and thought-provoking as it is compelling, as brutal and harrowing as it is achingly poignant and tender, this is a novel about love and war, deceit and betrayal, about identity, storytelling and the trickery required for survival.

An expansive novel that spans a century, obscuring and illuminating the trickster at its heart.

Ayọb̀ámi Adébáyọ̀

8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster

8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster

by Mirinae Lee

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Describe your book in one sentence as if you were telling a friend.

Inspired by my great-aunt, ‘8 Lives’ explores the manifold identities that one woman assumes to survive the turbulences of modern Korean history.

What inspired you to write your novel?

My great-aunt, one of the oldest women to escape alone from North Korea, was the seed of inspiration for ‘8 Lives.’ She was a bizarre person, far removed from most Asian women of her generation. Like the protagonist of ‘8 Lives,’ my great-aunt was an arrogant polyglot who took pride in her intelligence and her ability to speak foreign languages, and an ingenious storyteller whose captivating tales sometimes verged on fantasies.

Which part of the book was the most fun to write? Which was the most challenging?

‘Bring Down the House’ and ‘Storyteller’ were the most challenging as well as the most rewarding chapters to write. Both chapters are the stories of Korean women under wartime sex slavery. As a fiction writer, I enjoy reimagining history that isn’t possible in nonfiction writing. I loved creating a character equipped with ingenuity and cunningness with which she could fight back against slavery in her own way. But writing about the tragedies that Comfort Women had undergone wasn’t an easy task. The details of the inhuman cruelty they had experienced were devastating to learn and to ruminate upon. Yet I didn’t shy away from doing their testimonies justice. I didn’t tone down the level of brutality they had survived for fear of the readers’ discomfort. What I realized in the end was that it takes much more courage for the survivors of violence to open up and share their wounds than for us to simply listen to them.

If you could take one book to a desert island, what would it be and why?

Probably ‘The Way Things Work,’ a children’s book illustrated by David Macaulay. We contemporary humans live surrounded by all sorts of tools and devices, but most of us are not capable of building any of them let alone understanding how they function. I think this kind of book, a collection of simple and clear illustrations of how most tools and devices we use every day work, can be essential on a desert island where one needs to build everything alone from scratch.

Where is your favourite place to write?

My favorite place to write is simply my office, a small private room with a desk, a comfortable chair, and my laptop. Although I like reading in a cafe, I can’t seem to focus very well on writing in an open, noisy environment.

If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you be doing now? Where would you be?

I love cinema as much as I love literature, so I think I would be doing something related to filmmaking.