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Go Away With ... Crystal Hana Kim

Go Away With ... Crystal Hana Kim
"If You Leave Me" author Crystal Hana Kim says she would love to explore New Zealand. (Nina Subin)

Crystal Hana Kim makes her debut as a novelist with "If You Leave Me," a sweeping tale that centers on a resilient young woman forced to tackle roles thrust upon her: caregiver, wife and mother. Born in Queens and currently a resident of Brooklyn, Kim, 31, says the inspiration for the main character was her grandmother. For more information on Kim, check out her website (

) or follow her on Twitter (

) and Instagram (

).

Q. You lived in Chicago for a bit before moving back to New York. How do the two cities compare?

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A. New York has my heart, but I loved my time in Chicago. It's is a deeply cultural city with a robust food scene. For two years, I lived 15 minutes from Lake Michigan. My absolute favorite writing break during the summer was jumping off the flat stones in Hyde Park and swimming in the lake for an hour. Also, Chicago is so much cleaner than New York. I really wish we had alleyways for our garbage.

Q. You were born in Queens, but I suspect that you have been asked the "where are you really from" question. How do you react to assumptions that you are not American?

A. Oh, I've gotten that a lot. It's such a frustrating question, because I want to assume the best of strangers who are curious, but I'm also taken aback by some people's insistence on repeatedly asking "But where are you really from?" even after I've answered. It insinuates that there is only one true type of American, which more often than not equals a white American. I'm a teacher, though, so the educator in me comes out in these moments. It can be a helpful teaching moment to talk about how questions like "Where are you really from?" contributes to a narrow understanding of our country, and why it can feel offensive to have someone assume my race excludes me from being American.

Q. If you were given enough money and time to travel exclusively for food, where would you want to revisit and why?

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A. There are so many places! I'd love to go back to Nice where I'd eat more socca, which is a type of pancake made of chickpea flour sold on the streets as a cheap snack. In Mexico City, I'd love to eat more escamoles, which is a local dish made of ant larvae. The most exquisite lunch I've ever eaten is at David Toutain in Paris, so if I had unlimited funds, I'd love to go back there for dinner.

Q. Your parents are from South Korea. How often do you visit?

A. I grew up traveling to Korea often. My parents are both immigrants from Korea and my mother's side of the family still lives there. She'd take me and my little sister back during our summer breaks to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. All of those summers in Korea helped me to develop a deep love for my culture. When I began writing my novel during graduate school, I visited Korea specifically to do research. "If You Leave Me" is about five characters growing up during and after the Korean War. I wanted to make sure I represented this period of time accurately. I first interviewed my grandmother, who was a teenage refugee who fled her home during the Korean War. Her story inspired the premise of my novel, so I knew I wanted to start with her first.

Q. For a writer who can't afford to travel, but would like to write a fictional story about a place they have never been, what would you recommend?

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A. This is a great question, as travel can be expensive and time-consuming. Luckily, we're living in a time where the internet has expanded our ability to access different cultures and geographic locations. If you're a writer who wants to write about a place you've never been, do your research. Connect with people from that place or who have lived during that period of time. Interview them. It's also helpful to look at photographs and videos. What do the homes, buildings and natural landscapes look like? What are people wearing? When I wrote about 1950s Korea, I studied a lot of photographs and films to help me write sensory details, which would make this time and place come alive for the reader.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. Cassis, France. Cassis is a small fishing town in the south of France, about 40 minutes outside of Marseille. I lived there for a month while doing a writer's residency, and I fell in love. It's a quiet town where you can lay out on stone beaches, eat plenty of pastries and hike the majestic calanques, which are these breathtaking limestone valleys along the Mediterranean coast.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. Eye mask, face serums and lotions, multiple books (fiction, nonfiction and poetry), and a camera.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A. Candy on long flights -- the gummy kind that rots your teeth. I always try the local alcoholic specialties too, of course.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at

. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on

where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)

(c) 2018 JAE-HA KIM DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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