Marilyn and Me by Ji-min Lee

Marilyn and Me cover

Marilyn and Me is the story of a woman traumatised by the Korean War who ends up as the translator for Marilyn Monroe during her visit to Korea performing for US soldiers. Alice works as a typist on an American military base in Korea, where she colours her hair with beer and is haunted by the horrors of the war. An unlikely chance to translate for Marilyn Monroe gives her a chance to compare her life to the star’s, but it isn’t long before men from her past are catching up with her and the truth of what happened to her during the war starts to unfold.

This is a powerful and gripping novel, that goes deep into Alice’s emotions and into the situation in Korea during the war. It is short and fast paced, moving between the past (just before and during the Korean War) and the novel’s present (1954) to unfold Alice’s life and a web of survival and betrayal. It is both a book about war and trauma and a book about a lonely woman having a brief and unlikely friendship with a Hollywood star.

Complex and interesting, Marilyn and Me takes a real life moment from history and constructs a narrative around it that looks at the personal horrors of war and espionage and the difficulty of survival even once the war is over.