The English translation of an early work by the author of The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness (2015) and Please Look After Mom (2011).
One of South Korea’s most celebrated writers, Shin captured the attention of Anglophone readers when she won the Man Asian Literary Prize. This slender novel begins in the early 1970s with the birth of a baby girl—unwanted because of her sex—in a small village. Oh San’s family has little social status, and she and her mother move deeper into the margins after San’s father disappears. As a young woman, San moves to Seoul. Her real dream is to become a writer or just work at a publishing house, but she is willing to settle for work as a word processor operator. When even this modest goal proves unattainable, San starts working in a flower shop. She meets a woman named Su-ae—who is as bold and impetuous as San is cautious and reserved—and falls for an unnamed photographer. Shin is known for revealing the ways in which her culture oppresses and isolates people—especially women. With San, she has created a protagonist who is professionally thwarted and incapable of forming attachments. San accepts Su-ae’s friendship, but she also pushes the other woman away. San becomes obsessed with a man she barely knows because he offers her a couple of compliments. At the same time, her desire for him is tangled up with the still-raw feelings she has from being rejected by her only childhood friend after a brief intimate moment. Throughout these travails, though, San remains something of a cypher—inaccessible not just to the people around her, but also to the reader. The violent phantasmagoria of the story’s climax reinforces the sense that San is more a symbol of modern alienation than a fully developed character.
Overly reliant on sentimentality and shock.