If you were searching for mystery and historical fiction, look no further. The Silence of Bones is an amazing Korean Historical Fiction! I knew I was going to interview June Hur beforehand, but after finishing I was ecstatic for the opportunity. Keep reading as we talk inspiration, characters, and writing.
The Silence of Bones
1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.
As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.
But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.
What inspired the story? It’s a fabulous blend of historical fiction and mystery!
For most of my life, I’ve had a deep appreciation for western history, and that’s why I chose to study history at the University of Toronto. But I had absolutely no interest in Korean history. I am Korean, with a very traditionally Korean parents, but I just didn’t’ feel that Korean history was relevant to me. Then, when I began reading about Korea out of curiosity, I ended up being deeply surprised to find that so much of who I am is rooted in Korea’s past. By studying the past, I learned more about myself and realized that I’m not as disconnected from my homeland as I imagined myself to be. It’s this personal connection I discovered with Korean history that inspired me to write my debut. I also included mystery into my book because I thought it would be a great vehicle to use to explore the political tension in Joseon Dynasty Korea.
How has the process of being a debut author been?
Debut year hasn’t “felt” the way I thought it would feel! After getting a foot in the door to publishing, which was a decade-long dream of mine, I thought something would change with my life—or at least that I’d feel more confident! But life is still ordinary, a day to day grind of getting the words in while caring for my daughter. And I still struggle with imposter syndrome. At the same time, debut year has opened my eyes to how grateful I should be! It’s made me look back on how many people supported me on my journey to publication, and in the midst of my deadline, it’s made me realize how kind and supportive my family and friends are.
Did you always know the culprit in the mystery?
No! And it was so, so stressful not knowing, because not knowing made it difficult to outline the plot. I couldn’t trust any of the characters, and the culprit kept changing. So when I finally did figure out who the culprit, I was pretty shocked.
Seol is such an amazing character. In all your drafts, was she always the same?
She was completely different in the first draft. I wanted her to be a cold and cynical woman, but as I continued to write, I kept imagining Seol as this sweet and fiercely loyal character, totally clueless about the horrors awaiting her. She was just so charming and endearing that, in the end, I let go of my anxious grip over the story, and that was when Seol really came alive and steered the book in a totally unexpected and poignant direction
Family is incredibly important in The Silence of Bones, can you talk about Seol’s quest and what family means to her?
Seol’s quest to find her family reflects her deeper longing for home. The best quote from THE SILENCE OF BONES that sums this sentiment is when Seol thinks of home, and thinks: “the place that whispered to me through the familiar smiles, the familiar scenes, the familiar patterns of each day: you belong here.” Family is her everything, the backbone of all her bravery and courage, her reason for existence. But as her understanding of family shifts, through a series of heartbreaks, so does her understanding of home. And her journey reflects my own as an immigrant with a family dispersed. I spent nearly half my life living with my siblings in Canada, far away from my parents, far away from my relatives. And so, while I was writing this book, I found myself wrestling with two questions that always haunted me: What will it cost to keep family together when things are falling apart? And where is home when you live far away from those who have loved you for all of your life?
What research did you do for The Silence of Bones that you couldn’t include?
The first historical event that comes to mind is the controversial ‘Silk Letter’ incident, written by the Korean-Catholic aristocrat, Hwang Sayông, in 1801. During this period, Korea was a closed-door kingdom, where all teachings from the West was punishable by death, and so Korean Catholics were being arrested, tortured and executed for their belief. Hwang Sayông was so traumatized by the massacre of his fellow believers that he wrote a long letter on silk, where he begged the Bishop of Beijing for military intervention. His hope was that a foreign invasion would stop the persecution led by Korean government.
In my earlier drafts, I’d actually wrote about this Silk Letter in detail, with Seol getting involved in the incident herself. But I ended up deciding that, while Hwang Sayong’s story was fascinating and heartbreaking, it was Seol’s story that I wanted to tell. So I ended up deleting it. *weeps*
About the Author
JUNE HUR (‘Hur’ as in ‘her’) was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. Most of her work is inspired by her journey through life as an individual, a dreamer, and a Christian, with all its confusions, doubts, absurdities and magnificence. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto, and currently works for the public library. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.