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The Silent Violinist – Anna Stroud reviews Min Kym’s memoir Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung

Min Kym’s memoir tells a story of sacrifice, pain and separation, writes Anna Stroud for the Sunday Times


GoneGone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung
Min Kym (Penguin Random House)
****

There are two protagonists at the centre of Min Kym’s acute memoir; Min the person and Min the violin. The two are inseparable, until one day when Min the violin is wrenched away from Min the person.

From the start the reader knows that something is amiss. You can sense the aching void in the narrator as she recounts the story of how she became Min, without a violin. It starts in the 1980s. Min-Jin Kym and her family move from Korea to London, where her father works for Daewoo. Min accompanies her older sister to piano lessons, but doesn’t get to play. One day, her mother asks her if she wants to play something. The piano is already taken, but perhaps the violin?

That is how Min becomes a child prodigy. Everything she plays shimmers with hope and promise. She has perfect pitch. However, when her father is recalled to Korea she must give up the violin. Sensing the heartache in his daughter, her father goes against his family, against his very Korean-ness, and moves Min, her mother and sister back to London where she has a better chance of becoming an artist.

Tucked away in the folds of the memoir are the things Min doesn’t spell out in words: the sacrifices she makes to live up to expectation, the damage inflicted on a young child who just wants to play the violin.

Min the child prodigy is shy and introverted. Her world revolves around her violin. She’s eager to please and obedient as Korean children ought to be. This makes her vulnerable to manipulation by people who don’t have her best interests at heart.

As she grows older, Min the violin has the world at her feet; standing ovations greet her wherever she goes. She’s lived up to expectation. But Min the person is not so successful. She struggles with her personal life. She trusts the wrong people, believing that others know what’s best for her.

This brings the reader to the point where Min is violently separated from her violin.

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung
is told with brutal, raw honesty. This is a memoir, a true story. If you google the author and the disappearance of her 300-year-old Stradivarius which was stolen outside Euston Station in 2010, it’s clear that Min’s voice was never heard. Instead, men she trusted spoke for her, steering the narrative towards their own version of events.

For that reason, Gone is a celebration of Min’s voice. Throughout the memoir, she grapples with her identity. Is she Korean, or a Londoner? Is she a girl, or an artist, or both? How to be both in a world that favours the artist? Finally she has had a chance to tell her story, in her own voice, to a captive audience: the reader. @annawriter_

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