In “The Hundred Choices Department Store,” a novel for young readers (grades 4 to 7), Ginger Park paints a bleak but inspiring picture of privation and oppression in war-torn Korea. Based on her own mother’s life, Park tells the story through the eyes of Mikooki, now an old woman, who was a girl when Japan occupied Korea in WWII.
School, she tells us, was little more than child labor—darning socks, polishing boots, and sewing buttons onto military uniforms “for the war effort.” Worst of all was a nightmarish stint in a dye factory, where the image of “ghost-like children hunched over the iron vats” haunted her sleep for years to come.
Miyooki’s load is lightened by the love of her older brother, who looks out for her and supplements her meager school rations with bowls of noodles, and by the wealth of her parents, who co-own a luxury department store that caters to a haughty Japanese clientele. “Japan occupied my country,” she writes defiantly, “but not my heart.”
Struggling to make a life for herself, and inspired by the face of the hollow-eyed boy she met in the factory, Miyooki helps her mother in her work with orphans. “Small gestures are never forgotten,” her mother assures her—and dreams of a day when she can escape the misery around her.
Miyooki’s mother also advises her to “tell a story, something meaningful.” And that is just what Ginger Park has done in this achingly beautiful tale of a brave girl who must find the courage to leave her home behind and rise above the sorrows of her times.
Ginger Park is the award-winning author of five children’s books, including “My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea,” and “Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong,” which Newsweek magazine called “the perfect all-American story.” A lifelong resident of the Washington area, she is co-owner of CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE in downtown DC. www.parksisters.com