Author Playlists

Jimin Han’s playlist for her novel “The Apology”

“Music was always in the background when I was shaping this novel.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Jimin Han’s The Apology is one of the year’s best novels, told through the eyes of its unforgettable centennial protagonist Jeonga Cha.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

“Jeonga’s narration is sharp and witty and a touch sly as she describes her present, disembodied state—the in-between, purgatory-like space her consciousness now occupies—as well as the events that led to her death…This is an enthralling multigenerational tale of familial secrets, trauma and healing.”

In her own words, here is Jimin Han’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Apology:

I used to be embarrassed by the unabashed longing in my father’s tenor voice when he sang, with tears in his eyes, about missing his hometown at parties in our house. I felt mildly better when other adults joined in, swaying with him, all sitting cross-legged on the rug in the living room. Their voices together said none of them were alone; they understood this grief, and somehow that lessened the pain so that they ended up laughing together. My father’s song is about a place. Ko Hyang is a Korean word that means hometown, and it carries more weight than just where you were born or grew up. To my mind, as my parents have explained it to me from their particular experiences, ko hyang is a part of your history, your family, your very being. You are bound together because of a place, your experience of that time in that place. Here’s as much as I remember of the lyrics with my spelling in Korean and English: Naneun sah-ah-nun, ko hyang-un…kopi… The place where I used to live, my hometown, where flowers are in bloom…  I could hum it for you but the Korean is beyond my reach. The refrain, however, I remember: “Crying, crying…”

Even though this song is not mentioned in my book, both the feeling of missing a place or a person and the plaintive rise of voices is what I heard throughout its writing. The best description in cadence and tone would be traditional Irish ballads.

In my novel, The Apology, we follow a 105-year-old Korean woman who gets up off her very privileged, comfortable chair (literally) to save her family from a curse she instigated many years earlier. She just didn’t think her actions would catch up to her and harm those she loved. Her pride is her strength and her weakness. Music was always in the background when I was shaping this novel. We were in the first years of Covid. Grief cloaked each day. Through this period of time, there were songs, always songs, playing on a speaker in the kitchen that my children called up or on my phone when I was trying to block out the sounds of the rest of the family – all of us together, uncertain if we would always be this way. I also thought a lot about my father in our house in the United States, the pain of missing home along with the joy of finding camaraderie with new friends in a new place as they sang together.

Below are some of the songs that remind me of that time, that influenced the story, and characters. 

“Missing You” (John Waite)

I love the denial at the heart of this song, its pounding percussion. Jeonga, the narrator of The Apology, is all about pretending to be someone she’s not to the world, especially to her sisters. Waite’s song is one I don’t regularly listen to but if it pops up on my Spotify, I always let it play and weirdly, it gives me a kind of energy, like I hope readers get from Jeonga to keep going, however down you feel. Feels very Jeonga-ish to me at her core, where she starts her journey at the beginning of this book.

“About 500 Years” (Korean Folk Song)

I came upon this when I was researching Korean love songs for the book. “About 500 Years” was part of the reason I made Jeonga 105 years old. The song is about a lover being asked to be devoted for as long as five centuries. What an extreme request! It made me think about time in a different way.  If Jeonga was 105 years old, that’s a lot of time to fix her mistake and she still hasn’t done it? It also gave me ideas about how Jeonga might meet her lover in the afterlife. The song, I’ve since learned, is also ironic which fits in well with what I intended. One of those weird coincidences that happen when we’re writing.

“Easy Silence” (Dixie Chicks)

I’ve always loved this song for what it says about just being in a space with someone and not having to fill it with words. Jeonga and her lover Siwon are stuck in her house together during the last years of the Korean War when there’s a lot of upheaval around them. I thought of this song really for how people can feel comfortable with someone else in a way that’s unnamable. Jeonga has that kind of relationship with her sister, Seona, a comfort that she doesn’t have with her older sisters—a level of ease you can’t force or duplicate. It’s mysterious and totally up to chance in many ways.

“I Knew I Could Fly” (Songs of Our Native Daughters)

Back in 2018 I got to see Songs of Our Native Daughters in concert at Chautauqua Institution and fell in love with their bluesy, melodic harmonies. Rhiannon Giddens, Amethyst Kiah, Allison Russell, and Leyla McCalla are each multi-instrumental powerhouses who collaborated to create defiantly joyful storytelling with their songs. “I Knew I Could Fly” carried me through some of the most difficult days of the pandemic, especially when I look back on my friend, the novelist Brian Rogers, who I wrote with each week and who died of brain cancer in 2021.

“Butter” (BTS)

I could have chosen other BTS songs, lesser-known ones of course, but this one with its lyrics made me think about this mix of what I’ve considered to be Korean and American. I know they mean butter to be metaphorical but I always think of the yellow dairy product. When I was a kid and would go to my friends’ houses for dinner, they’d put a slab of butter on their Minute Rice which honestly (sorry) repulsed me. Rice to me—white rice, I mean—could only have soy sauce and sesame oil mixed into it. Butter was for toast and baked potatoes and pasta. But The Apology is about just that kind of change happening everywhere. Jeonga, who lives in South Korea, thinks the world is so large that her secret can be kept in a place as far away from her as the United States, but she learns it’s not far away enough. I’m excited to put butter on rice now. Bring on kimchi tacos and cheese in ramen and all things BTS– especially because it means everyone now knows the name Jimin from its famous member.

“In the Night” (Parc Jae Jung)

The acoustic guitar in this song kills me every time. It’s full of longing and sadness and yet the tempo doesn’t let you linger. The song is from the soundtrack of the K-Drama series, Hi Bye, Mama. In the show, Cha Yu-ri, a mom who is a ghost, follows the family she loves wherever they go. There’s a sense of constant motion as she keeps up with their lives and looks out for them. That pace alone made me optimistic. I tried to create that same sense of hope when Jeonga is in the afterlife, mixed in with the grief of being unable to reach her loved ones.

“Iris” (Goo Goo Dolls)

The soundtrack to the movie City of Angels is full of songs that convey the atmosphere on my mind during the writing of The Apology’s afterlife sections. As I’m writing this, I realize there are a lot of similarities between the lilting guitar in “Iris” and “In the Night,” the song listed directly above. But “Iris” has to be on here because honestly, it’s a favorite of mine.

“Whatever” (Ak Dan Gwang Chil or ADG7)

Korean traditional music combined with shaman references mixed with contemporary sounds? I’m definitely here for the songs that ADG7 creates. The dynamic energy of these artists with their traditional wind and percussion instruments is expansive and new. It reminds me that there are yet spaces to be made, that there’s always something to come that will astonish and surprise. It’s a lesson that Jeonga seeks even after she’s seemingly run out of time. Makes me hopeful that even if we don’t have answers to whatever stands in our way right now, there’s a good chance they’ll come tomorrow.  

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Dias Novita Wuri was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, 1989. She graduated from Universitas Indonesia, majoring in Russian Language and Literature. In 2019, she earned a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Queen Mary, University of London.

Jimin Han was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island; Dayton, Ohio; and Jamestown, New York. Her work has been supported by the New York State Council on the Arts. She is the author of The Apology and A Small Revolution. Additional writing of hers can be found online at American Public Media’s Weekend America, Poets & Writers, and Catapult, among others. She teaches at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, Pace University, and community writing centers. She lives outside New York City with her husband and children. Connect with her her on social media at @jiminhanwriter or her website:

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