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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Arts: NOTL novelist reconnects with lost family member through her work
Oew Sook Kim has been writing in Korean for 31 years and is proud to share an english translation of her 11th book with readers across Niagara. Evan Loree

Niagara-on-the-Lake author Oew Sook Kim says she puts a little bit of herself into everything she writes.

“As a writer, I have to be all characters,” Kim said in an interview.

The 69-year-old Korean-born writer says she needs to get inside the minds of her characters to better understand what they would do in a situation.

Her latest book, “El Condor,” is no exception.

It marks an impressive milestone as her 11th publication and the first to be translated into English.

She started writing “El Condor” in 2019, but seeds of the story were sown shortly after she married retired reverend James Hills in 2004.

Hills, 95, has never been able to read his wife’s work because she writes mostly in Korean.

“My husband, at last, he could read my book,” she said in an interview.

The book is dedicated to Hills and his adopted daughter, Anna.

Kim first met her husband at a service station in 2002 while travelling abroad from Korea to visit friends.

While visiting, Kim was staying with friends who owned a gas station in Thorold.

In a chance encounter, she met Hills at her friend’s business while he was stopping to fuel up.

Hills, active with the Korean Church in Niagara at the time, was with two Korean friends.

After the two groups got to chatting, Hills learned Kim was a writer.

Smitten, Hills invited Kim and her friends to the Pillar and Post the next day for tea.

“He was falling in love right away with me,” she said with a big smile.

After she was back in her home country, he would sometimes email her three times a day.

Hills proposed to Kim the next year while visiting Korea, despite the fact they spoke different languages.

“He said, ‘If you say no, I will go to Niagara Falls. I will jump,’ ” Kim said with a laugh.

Still, she was reluctant to say yes.

“I didn’t want to get married again. I already had a sad experience,” Kim said.

She was widowed in her mid-30s. She and her first husband had a son, who still lives in Korea today.

After months of back-and-forth emails with Hills, Kim finally said yes. They were married at West St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in St. Catharines in January 2004 and moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

On the acknowledgement page for “El Condor,” she describes her husband as “no ordinary man.”

Hills had five children, including the adopted Anna, who was born in Costa Rica. She died of a heart attack almost four years ago, Kim said.

Her new novel has been a way for her to reconnect with Anna.

“From that time, I decided to put her in my story,” she said.

For the author it was a way to reconnect with her stepdaughter and “make her alive again.”

“In truth, the writer in me saw the source material when I looked at the adoption and the warm, happy family,” reads her acknowledgement page.

“El Condor” tells the sad and romantic story of a Peruvian girl, named Anna, who grows up in Niagara-on-the-Lake after being adopted by a grape farmer.

Her life gets complicated after she falls in love with her stepbrother Brian.

But as their love is a forbidden one, Anna moves away, and eventually falls in love with Michael, a boy from school named. After marrying Michael, her heart is tested once more when she has a miscarriage.

The novel ends on a happier note, though, when Anna and Michael go to Peru to adopt a baby.

The romantic epic was originally published in serial fashion in a Korean-language daily newspaper based in Toronto.

Kim, who used to work as a counsellor in Korea, said that is where she learned to empathize with different people and craft a wide variety of characters.

To accurately portray Anna’s family and the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, she had to learn a lot about the local winemaking industry.

On her novel’s acknowledgement page, Kim writes, “The daughter of my husband Rev. James Hills may have passed, but Anna Hills will be happy again, forever reborn as Anna Evans.”

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