Author Interview: Sumi Hahn

Inspired by true events on Korea’s Jeju Island, Sumi Hahn’s “entrancing [debut] novel, brimming with lyricism and magic” (Jennifer Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings), The Mermaid from Jeju explores what it means to truly love in the wake of devastation. We spoke with author Sumi Hahn about the inspiration for The Mermaid from Jeju, getting fired from an indie bookstore, and more!

“Sumi Hahn is a dream-weaver whose poetic and powerful prose makes us believe in magic and reconfirms the transformative power of storytelling.”

author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

This story struck me like a lightning bolt while I was in the hospital with my father, who had collapsed and was in the emergency room. The writing of it took more than seven years, because I needed to travel to Korea for extensive research. See for a full account in the uncut Author’s Note.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

I’ll be listening to the audiobook on the same day it downloads for everyone else!

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

Not yet! Stories sound very different when read out loud, and I’m curious to learn what changes about this story when I hear it in a different voice other than the one in my head.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I love listening to audiobooks in the car—especially on long trips. I use different platforms for different genres: nonfiction I prefer in audio form. I was utterly riveted by Charles Eisenstein’s Climate: A New Story for awhile. I am currently enjoying the sound of Matthew McConaughey’s voice in Greenlights. I use a Kindle to read murder mysteries, fantasies, and sci fi. I always read literary fiction and poetry in book form.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I used to work in an independent bookstore when I was in college, and I will never forget the walls, nooks, and crannies stuffed with books that I would always get lost in. I ended up getting fired after the bookstore owner found me, for the nth time, on the floor reading next to a stack of books I was supposed to be shelving. On the other end of the spectrum, I worked for Amazon when it only sold books as the cookbook and children’s book editor.

author quote

Header photo by Kate Roberge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *