I met Samuel Park some years back when he Skyped into my book group. We read his novel, This Burns My Heart, and it was such a treat to meet him over a video connection and talk about his book and publishing and Chicago (where he lived and close to where we lived). I remember how nice and down-to-earth he was. It was like chatting with an old friend.
Since then I’ve looked out for new books from him and came across The Caregiver (Simon & Schuster, 2018) with this beautiful cover.
But then one word stood out and my pulse quickened: posthumously.
Had I read that correctly?
I looked again and it saw that it was true. He passed away from stomach cancer last year at the age of 41. He was even younger than I thought when we spoke over Skype.
Samuel Park was such a beautiful writer and a beautiful person. It was so unfair he got so sick and passed away before most people really start their lives. On the first opportunity I got to visit my favorite indie bookstore in Chicago–not far from where Samuel Park taught at Columbia College Chicago–I bought a copy of The Caregiver and was surprised by how small it was. In the photos, the book looks massive and lengthy. In actuality, it’s small and less than 300 pages.
I savored his book over a week, as if prolonging a dreaded goodbye. It’s the story of Mara, a Brazilian caregiver in her mid-twenties, whose patient is a forty-something year-old American woman dying from stomach cancer. I thought the book would be more cerebral about death and cancer, but it turned out to be more about Mara’s coming to terms with her activist mother back on Copacabana Beach during the military dictatorship in 1980s Brazil.
Samuel Park, the son of Korean immigrants, was born Brazil and grew up in California before attending Stanford and USC. This Burns My Heart was set in Korea and was centered around Korean characters, one of whom was based on his mother. But the characters in The Caregiver are Brazilian and American, with no mention of Asia or Asian characters. It still involves a complicated mother and I wonder if she was based on his mother, too.
The story in The Caregiver was simpler than This Burns My Heart, but just as lyrical and thought-provoking. Although I gravitate to shorter books now so my to-read pile is easier to get through, I found myself taking my time with The Caregiver. And wishing I could have had the chance to talk to Samuel Park about his new book.