Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir
by Mary Woster Haug
Bottom Dog Press

"'Like the mother's womb, the wrapping cloths [pojagi] contain all possibility for life.' That piece of grassland was the pojagi of my childhood."

Haug’s background as a thirty-year university English professor and literary author shows in beautiful language that is a pleasure to read. Nylon stockings whisper "like siblings in their beds" as Haug's musical mother pounds the pedals of the upright piano in their rural home in Reliance, South Dakota. Divers' fins are "exclamation points" against the surface of the sea during Haug's exchange professorship at South Korea's Chungnam National University. In Kresge's Five and Dime back in South Dakota, a crowded coat stand becomes "jackets bunched on racks like cattle in loading chutes."

Distinctive language also tells a story of a career wife and mother facing the ripened guilt planted by a caring but traditional Irish-Catholic mother who felt that motherhood should be "enough" for any woman. Haug tells it well against the shifting emotional and physical backdrops of South Korea and her native South Dakota grasslands, weaving together the currents of two cultures.

Haug compares the physical border between North and South Korea to the boundaries of prejudice, both Western against Asian and hers against the neighboring Lakota Native Americans of her childhood. Proving the unifying qualities of music, Haig carefully morphs a traditional Korean haegeum concert into warm memories of her Irish clan gathered in song around her mother's piano, while fat women jitterbugged on a linoleum kitchen floor.

Burned out Christmas lights in South Dakota spark a deliberate essay on the hollowing out of Korean traditions, as teenagers long for the bright lights and wealth of America while their mothers' bewildered eyes fill with tears. As the book progresses so does Haug's peace with her mother, who once asked, "What’s so great about the truth?" The answer lies in this beautifully written memoir that peels truth like an onion and spins it into a glorious pojagi of understanding.

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