Tender and mournful, the latest novel from best-selling South Korean novelist Shin (Please Look after Mom, 2011) considers young love and loss in an era of political ferment.
Eight years after a transformative if tragedy-clouded romance, two intimate friends reconnect by phone with news of the illness of a college professor whose classes helped unite them. Shin then quickly spools back to that earlier period, the university days of Jung Yoon—who has had a year’s leave of absence, mourning her mother's death—and Yi Myungsuh, a politically active student taking part in the many demonstrations disrupting life in Seoul in the 1980s. The attraction between the two is influenced by Yi Myungsuh's friendship with Miru, a young woman whose scarred hands are terrible living reminders of a missing sister and her “disappeared” boyfriend. Narrated partly by Jung Yoon, partly in other characters’ letters and diaries, the story combines philosophy and youthful idealism, innocence and brutal experience, all delivered in Shin's understated prose. Although a story of specific relationships, the novel reaches toward larger resonances, touching on shared impulses and universal injustices, underscoring them with references to world literature. Above all, the book celebrates human love and friendship, touchstones during dark, divided times.
Shin's uncomplicated yet allusive narrative voice delivers another calmly affecting story, simultaneously foreign and familiar.