In award-winning Korean author Hwang's (Princess Bari, 2019, etc.) latest novel, a successful architect from a poor family reconnects with his first love many decades later.
As the title suggests, Park Minwoo has reached his twilight years. Friends and colleagues are beginning to die. "No one should ever forget their roots," one tells him gravely, but Minwoo feels embarrassed by the thought. He grew up in a Seoul slum called Moon Hollow in "a shabby house with wooden boards instead of glass in the windows," his parents eking out a living selling fishcakes. Determined to escape, he studied hard, stayed in school, and did well on his university exams. The only other high school student in Moon Hollow was the beautiful and sought-after Cha Soona, who secretly loved him. For decades Minwoo has repressed Soona's significance to him; he married well, studied abroad, and pursued a career that helped modernize Korea. But when he receives Soona's memoir in an email, his wife has moved to the U.S. to be near their daughter, and his company is under scrutiny due to corruption scandals. Soona remembers Moon Hollow with cleareyed affection in spite of what she endured there; her account dredges up their shared past, forcing him to reconsider his achievements and reckon for the first time with what he lost. The chapters alternate between Minwoo's point of view and that of a young, struggling playwright whose connection to the story emerges only gradually. Having been imprisoned for political reasons, Hwang has a restrained, delicate touch, alive to the nuances of memory, the slipperiness of the past, and the difficult choices life forces us to make. Minwoo's reexamination of his past serves as a reminder of the communities destroyed in the search for a better, more modern Korea, the lives disrupted and displaced, and the people left behind.
Subtly political, deeply humane, a story about home, loss, and the cost of a country's advancement.