An Na was born in South Korea in 1972 and grew up in San Diego, California. She is considered one of the most significant new voices in Asian-American young adults’ literature. After finishing her degree at Amherst College, she initially worked as an English and history teacher at a primary school for a few years, before attaining a Master of Arts in Writing Children’s Literature from the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Since then, she has focussed solely on writing.
An debuted in 2001 with “A Step from Heaven”, a touching novel for adolescents, which sold over 40,000 copies in the USA. The authentic and unsettling novel depicts a sensitive yet cruel world through fragments of thoughts and interior monologues; the author follows the path of the Korean Young Ju, who, as a small child, emigrates with her parents from a Korean fishing village to “Mi Gook” (America). An Na uses short chapters and sobering, but lyrical language to describe the development of the four year old into a young woman in a complex and very foreign world – torn between Korean tradition and the American dream. The novel’s appeal also results from the stringent adherence to present tense. Thus, the reader always remains at the current level of the I-narrator. An Na’s succinct words and her evocative pictures allow for an immediate, almost oppressive empathy with the happenings and emotions of the adolescent girl. A compelling portrait of the family is created through loose, insistent episodes: while Young Ju quickly learns English, and gains a foothold in the new country through her tenacious ambition and endless curiosity – at the end, she is preparing to go to college – her parents have difficulty adjusting to their new lives with all its unfamiliar customs and new liberties, far from the traditions of their home country. The finely woven novel highlights how the family slowly falls apart and the parents’ marriage finally breaks down as a result of the father’s alcoholism and violence. Even the big plans that they make for Young Ju’s younger brother, who is born in America, burst like soap bubbles.
When asked if the novel is autobiographical, An answers: “‘A Step from Heaven’ grew from a need to express some of the longings and frustrations that I felt as an immigrant growing up in America. Many people ask me if this novel is autobiographical and I always respond by saying yes and no. As with all writing, the novel draws on past emotions, but the story is not my life. What the protagonist and I do share are some of the feelings of yearning, joy, and shame that come with trying to negotiate a foreign culture.”
An Na’s young adults’ novel has received numerous awards, including the renowned Michael L. Printz Award (2002) and the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (2001-2003). The book was a finalist in the distinguished National Book Awards (2001) and was listed as a Notable Book by the “New York Times Book Review” (2001).
Like her debut novel, An Na’s second book “Wait for Me” deals with a search for personal identity in the context of immigration. At the heart of this novel for young adults, the author has drawn together themes like first love, the mother-daughter relationship and above all life expectations. The story is that of Mina, a seventeen-year-old girl who is unsure about which direction she should take in her future life. On the one hand, Mina would like to fulfil the wish of her mother and care for her deaf younger sister. On the other, when she falls in love with Ysrael, a Mexican, she becomes aware that she must find her own path through life. The author lives in Montpelier, Vermont with her husband and daughter.
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