Review: “I’ll Be Right There” by Kyung-Sook Shin

shinWhen Jung Yoon suddenly receives a phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years, she finds herself thrust back into her college years filled with conflict and loss. She recounts her mother’s long illness, and the anger she felt when her mother pushed her out of the house to live with her cousin, claiming it was better for the young girl. This is the story of Yoon’s childhood and how it connects with who she became in college, where she met two fascinating people who became her close friends, despite the darkness of their past. The entire story is set during South Korea’s contentious student protests and government suppression of the 1980s. I’ll Be Right There is a beautiful book, even if it’s heavy. There is a lot of heartbreak and loss, but there are lessons to be learned here. The book is inspiring and heartfelt, and I wish it had lasted longer than it did. Shin is a wonderful writer, with a style similar to Haruki Murakami in the sense that they both have great insight into human nature and are wonderful at describing the complex relationships between people. As far as I can tell, this is only the second book of hers to be translated into English, which is a shame. But I’ll be sure to check out the other one, Please Look After Mom, which I hear is also heavy.

TL:DR: I’ll Be Right There crosses cultural borders to speak to anyone willing to listen. While heavy, it’s steeped in references to great literature and music, and overall is just very well put together. This is sure to be one of the best-known works of South Korean literature in translation. Available now from Other Press.

4 stars

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