In our bi-monthly column, Who Lives Here, we’ll ask a variety of cool local moms to tell us about themselves and what they love about living in Westchester. First up: novelist Jimin Han whose newly-released book, A Small Revolution, was called “intriguing, suspenseful, an eerily timeless story” by Kirkus Reviews. The novel, named a must-read by Redbook Magazine, is the story about “a young woman who receives a swift education in love, violence, and the politics of 1980s Korea,” writes Kirkus. And now, the same 12 questions we ask everybody.
Name: Jimin Han
Where do you live? South Salem, NY
When did you move there? 2003
Where did you grow up? Seoul, Korea; Providence, RI; Dayton, OH; Jamestown, NY
How do you make a living? I teach at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and write freelance essays and stories for websites and magazines.
You just published a novel. Describe your writing routine, especially when it comes to working around your kids schedules. Things have changed because my daughters are teenagers now. Everything doesn’t have to be planned as carefully—which takes so much pressure off. On the days I teach, I rarely get to squeeze in writing time. The days I don’t teach, the kids go to school, I take the dog to dog camp, and go write at a café or library. It’s the time I have the most energy and the clearest mind. And probably when I’m bravest. Then I run my errands, pick up the dog, and go home to do any freelance work or answer emails, check social media at the kitchen table while preparing dinner. By then the dog is tired and sleeps under the table, the kids have problems they want to discuss or forms they need me to sign. When I’m on deadline or pressing to get something done, I don’t go home until eight or nine, and the kids make their own dinner. My kids are pretty good cooks. They like to go to the grocery store and buy particular things and make dinner for themselves. Stirfry with shrimp, chicken, flowering chives, and tofu, anyone? In the mix is my husband who never comes home at a predictable time but always arrives to offer compromises, talk me down from some anxious height, and help the kidswith math homework.
Did your girls read the book?
They’ve read parts of it as it developed. My older daughter proofread some early pages for me. My younger one posted it on Instagram and her friends said they wanted to read it. The best compliment!
What’s your idea of a perfect Westchester Saturday?
My Saturdays always begin later than my weekdays because I get up with the dog during the week but my children alternate letting the dog out and feeding her breakfast on the weekends. So my perfect day is already off to a pretty good start because I get to sleep in. I love putting things out on the table instead of cooking when it comes to breakfast: bagels, lox, scallion cream cheese, red onions, tomatoes, coffee, orange juice, blueberries. Then we can take the dog for a walk up the hill behind our house. Afterward, we’d go to Compo Beach in Westport, CT. Thirty minutes in the car gives us a view of sailboats on Long Island Sound, a sandy beach where you can plop in a chair to read to the sound of sea gulls, pretty great French fries at the park’s little concession stand, a stone pier you can walk out on to stretch your legs. Hours later, we’d drive over to H Mart, the Korean market in Hartsdale and pick up groceries to throw a quick meal together at home, play with the dog some more and feed her, then go see a show at a local school. A few weeks ago we saw Little Women at John Jay High School. A while back, my daughter’s friend was in a dance concert at Yorktown High School. The quality of the shows at the schools around here are extraordinary.
What’s your favorite local restaurant?
If your best friend owned a restaurant you could hang out in all day long or send your kids to, knowing they’d get food they loved that was good for them (like the kind you’d buy and make at home), it would be this one! The Katonah Reading Room used to be the public library in town. So, of course, I fell in love with it. Now it’s a great place to have breakfast or lunch or an early dinner. Gretchen Menzies and her husband, the owners, have photos of the original library on the walls and books for sale—they also own Little Joe’s Books nearby so the restaurant is an extension of it. They’re passionate about farm to table local foods and live in the neighborhood. Some of my favorites: avocado toast for brunch or falafel with tangy onions, their amazing light salad with the yummiest grilled chicken. They also have a market section in the restaurant too where you can buy local eggs or a special sauce to add to whatever you’re making for dinner. And forget about the baked goods—I can never choose which brownie, cookie, croissant filled with something special—to bring home.
What’s on your nightstand?
Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce, Yoojin Grace Wuertz’s Everything Belongs to Us, my Kindle which has Viet Nguyen’s The Sympathizer on it, a large colorfully patterned blank journal that my agent gave me as a birthday present, a ceramic heart plaque that my older daughter made in second grade, a blue ceramic pinch pot my younger daughter made in third or fourth grade, a photo in a green frame of me with my mother, my two aunts and my grandmother in Korea before we moved to the States, Burt’s Bee’s royal jelly body lotion, a handwritten Valentine that my husband made for me in a white frame.
What are you listening to?
Harold Budd & Brian Eno’s Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror for the hundredth time (such a good album to write to) which I told a friend about, who mentioned some other Eno music which led me to YouTube which led me to Eno’s “The Big Ship,” which is the last song in the movie, End of the Tour (about David Foster Wallace). Love falling down that kind of Youtube rabbit hole of one song leading to another song leading to other surprises you can add to your playlists.
What are your current addictions?
I get to read very little outside of my students’ manuscripts during the semester, so I’m filling free time with reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels series which everyone has read but me. One of my best friends gave the series to me for Christmas last year. I’m in the middle of only the second one, and I’m marking my favorite passages so it’s taking me forever. Also, my other current addiction is spending as much time with both my children as I can. My older one is graduating from high school so if she doesn’t have plans with friends on a weekend night, I’m filling it with a long dinner out so we can talk uninterrupted or catching a movie, whatever she wants to do. And, of course, as we all do, I’m obsessing about the next book I’m working on.
Talent you would most like to have.
Wish I could read books in other languages. I left Korea before I learned to write or read Hangul so I’m terrible at it. I can speak like a four year-old but I’m a total illiterate. It’s appalling! I can’t read signs in Korea or even the simplest kids’ books. In school, I took a few years of Spanish and I never got good at that either. I admire people who are comfortable in many languages—it’s a way into understanding people. And I could read books in those languages too. I know just enough Korean to know what I’m missing.
What do you hope your kids say about you when they grow up?
That’s a tough one! Let me think. First thing that comes to mind, I hope they say I was right about everything. Haha! But deep down, I hope they say, “She looks great for a 101 year-old!”