To Swim Across The World is the first adult novel written by sisters Frances and Ginger Park, co-authors of the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award-winning My Freedom Trip: A Child’s Escape from North Korea. Although To Swim Across The World is fictional, it is based on the lives of the Parks' parents, Sei-Young and Heisook.
The story takes place in Japan-occupied Korea and focuses on two Koreans trying to exist under the rule of the Japanese. Heisook is able to live with luxuries most Koreans can only dream of because her father is a minister whose church makes “donations” to the local police. Heisook is able to attend school, take flute lessons, and enjoy Korean delicacies at every meal.
Sei-Young’s family is not so fortunate. His father, a skilled woodcarver, and his mother, a beautiful painter, attempt to provide for their family by peddling their art in the various towns surrounding their homestead. Oftentimes, there is no food for the family. Eventually, Sei-Young has no choice but to leave school and find work on a Japanese-owned farm.
Bad goes to worse when the United States declares war on Japan. Koreans, adults and children alike, are forced to work for the war effort by enlisting in the military, sewing uniforms, and working in airless factories. The Japanese treatment of the Koreans gets uglier as the war stretches on. When Japan concedes victory to the United States, Korea is divided between two countries – the United States and Russia. The part of Korea occupied by the United States starts to rebuild and prosper, but the Russian-occupied part of Korea finds itself under an even more oppressive dictator: the Russians. While Korea attempts to find a leader to reunite the country and to lead Korea into the future, tensions between the two sides finally collide and end in war.
Miraculously, Sei-Young and Heisook find each other and then find love in spite of the country’s difficulties. But there are still many obstacles to be overcome in order for Sei-Young to fulfill the prophesy of his name, which means “to swim across the world." This emotionally-charged novel gives the reader a glimpse of history, heroism, loyalty, hope, and of course, love.