Tales of immigrants arriving in the United States with only pennies in their pockets are common in history books. Yet it was 1991, less than twenty years ago, when the young heroine of White Pearl and I left her family in Russia to seek her fortune in America. Though she had only a dollar to her name and spoke no English, Svetlana Kim was determined to make a better life for herself. Inspired by her beloved grandmother “White Pearl,” whose strength and confidence enabled her to endure brutal treatment under Stalin, Kim pursued her new life with amazing courage. From enduring a three-day bus trip without food or water and teaching herself English, to talking her way into a department-store sales job and working her way up the corporate ladder, she diligently pursued her slice of the American dream.
svetlana gives an overview of the book:
Chapter 2: My Russia-Korean Babushka
"People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky; they just make brief patterns in it."
- Terry Pratchett
My paternal grandmother, Bya-ok ("White Pearl"), was born on January 8, 1915, and christened with the Russian name, Olga. As a young woman, her hair was jet black, her eyes radiated pure love, her skin was the color of a lustrous white pearl, her lips were full, her smile was irresistible, her voice was soft and pleasant, and her touch was gentle. Her laugh was inspiring and contagious. Her children called her "Mama" and her husband, my grandfather Alexander, called her simply "Olya." To me, she was always my loving babushka.
In the cold autumn of 1900, after a poor harvest and famine in Korea, White Pearl's parents, Elena Hvan and Tyan Sen Guk, had come to Russia to pursue a better life. They arrived at Sakhalin Island in the far eastern part of Russia. White Pearl told me, "My parents were country people, affable and down-to-earth, and of course hard working. They were poor like everyone else, but poverty back then was not depressing as it is today. My parents had neither electricity nor plumbing, neither bath nor shower. In order to stay clean, they melted snow in the winter to wash themselves. In the summer, they swam in rivers or lakes. They used kerosene lamps and were considered rich by their neighbors."
Svetlana Kim was just twenty-three years old when she left Leningrad, Russia, for New York City. During a chance encounter in a bread line, a former schoolmate offered her a plane ticket from the black market to America. With only a dollar in her pocket and no knowledge of...