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Winter in Sokcho (edition 2020)
by Elisa Shua Dusapin (Author)
Winter in Sokcho by Élisa Shua Dusapin
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Real Rating: 4.75* of five, rounded up out of respect for the difficult job this terrific tale presented its translator
I CHECKED THIS BOOK OUT OF MY LOCAL LIBRARY. USE THOSE LIBRARIES! THEY NEED US, AND WE NEED THEM.
My Review: I can't say too much, because there isn't one helluva lot of book here.
He’d never understand what Sokcho was like. You had to be born here, live through the winters. The smells, the octopus. The isolation.
This is the most Duras thing I've read that wasn't set in France. This is what Impressionism looks like in words. This is the way you take a simple, even banal, story of a young woman whose life is in neutral and chunk it into first gear without using the clutch.
You can feel a good, faithful translation. It fits and it means something you won't ever find anywhere else. This is a good, faitful translation by that metric. I haven't read the French but, should it ever swim across my bow, I will grab it and gobble it down to see how the flavor of fugu feels in French.
Mother and daughter at daggers drawn, sisters locked in battle, no one is getting a leg up on anyone else in this bitter little pill. It's always the family that makes you feel the worst when they could choose to give you their best. It's certainly true that South Korean culture is the epicenter of the plastic surgery world. The pressure to "look perfect" whatever that means there is powerful, and it's astonishing to me how high the percentage of South Koreans who've had serious work done is. It's no surprise that Jun-Oh, the narrator's boyfriend, is caught up in it...it makes sense, in that world, and her categorical refusal to give in to the not-subtle pressures he puts on her, her mother puts on her, and her mother's sister puts on her to "fix her flaws" is proof to me that this is someone I'd like to spend more time with.
Food is a huge part of this read...you'll read words in Korean that aren't translated, eg tteok, and it's on you to go figure out what the heck they are, or not if you don't care. I like that in a book. I will figure out what a tteok is (a rice cake made with steamed flour made of various grains, including glutinous or non-glutinous rice) and why it would smell of cold oil (some meal-base versions, not desserts, are fried) if I decide it means something to me. In a nutshell, the plot is nothing; in reality, it is Everything...how we mistreat our intimates without really giving it a thought; how we form alliances and attachments that never ever get to the surface of our lives (poor old Park!); how completely we fail to find our world's gifts until they make the gravity double and the body sink into a slough of despond with their absence.
Most of all, though, reading this beautiful book is an exercise in allowing words to do their work in you. You are not there, you more than likely have never been there, but through the magic of fiction here you are:
All night long the town was entombed in frost. The temperature fell to minus twenty-seven degrees, the first time it had happened in years. Curled up under the covers, I blew on my hands and rubbed them between my thighs. Outside, against the onslaught of ice, the waves struggled to resist, moving ever more slowly and heavily, cracking as they collapsed in defeat on the shoreline. I bundled myself up in my overcoat, the only way I could find sleep.
Don't miss the chance to read this book. It is a FINALIST for the 2021 Best Translated Literature category at the National Book Awards! The winner will be announced this evening.
This short novel looks at a young unnamed French-Korean woman who works at a guest house near the North Korean border as the cleaner/cook. She spends one night a week with her mother, and isn't really interested in moving to Seoul with her boyfriend. She seems satisfied yet unsatisfied with her life.
A French cartoonist/illustrator arrives. It is winter, and it is cold and business is slow. She finds him interesting--and he finds her interesting.
This book is somehow a mashup of [book:That Time of Year|51243985] and [book:Convenience Store Woman|38357895]--but I liked both of those books more.
Dusapin’s terse sentences are at times staggeringly beautiful [...]
It's winter in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The cold slows everything down. Bodies are red and raw, the fish turn venomous, beyond the beach guns point out from the North's watchtowers. A young French Korean woman works as a receptionist in a tired guesthouse. One evening, an unexpected guest arrives: a French cartoonist determined to find inspiration in this desolate landscape. The two form an uneasy relationship. When she agrees to accompany him on trips to discover an "authentic" Korea, they visit snowy mountaintops and dramatic waterfalls, and cross into North Korea. But he takes no interest in the Sokcho she knows--the gaudy neon lights, the scars of war, the fish market where her mother works. As she's pulled into his vision and taken in by his drawings, she strikes upon a way to finally be seen.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)843.92Literature French French fiction Modern Period 21st Century
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But neither the narrator, nor the cartoonist are the main characters in this story - Sokcho overshadows them both. While the human characters feel as if they were just sketched, the town is there in all its beauty; with its traditional culture and empty streets. And between the author and the translator, the language makes you want to stop and listen (although I wish there was a dictionary/notes in some places). How close is that description to the real town is unclear. But it does not matter. With the author being French Korean just as her narrator is(albeit one living in the other culture), I suspect that at least part of the story is based on her real life.
If you feel like reading a relatively short and very melancholy book about a town by the sea, steeped in Korean culture, give this one a try. It probably won't work for everyone but I enjoyed it. ( )