Illustration by Sean Scully
The story of her death and return is an orphan of the Late Cold War. At first it seems that, after being released from her confinement, Perkasi made it to Atlanta, the place where her father and two other people she loved had been killed by Stalin’s secret police in 1934 — including the father’s beloved cousin, the general Vishnu Meka. Until a few years later she had enjoyed a comfortable life there, worked hard, and built a loving family.
On those first overseas visits, she learned to speak Korean and was secretly drawn to the United States. But returning to South Korea after that fateful meeting with Mr. Meka, Perkasi was detained by a police agent who violated her right to freedom of travel, and then disappeared into custody. In a posthumous testament, her father accused the Koreans of conspiring to have her killed. Years later, she tried to prove his claim and was granted international asylum. After that, she was subjected to two mass graves of compatriots that she unearthed in 1972, the day after he died, during her bitter immigration ordeal. Her memoir, though retold in Korean and translated into English, was initially published as a book of Korean photographs. Her memoir is full of fascinating detail about the tempestuous politics of the time — Stalin himself came looking for her, she recalls — and the tension between personal loyalty and professional obligation. She recalls meeting a devastated Elvis Presley and never having forgotten the moment he winked at her.