How friendship, European literature, and a charismatic professor defy war, oppression, and the absurd
Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.
Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.
|Publisher:||Other Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Sora kim-Russell is a poet and translator originally from California and now living in Seoul, South Korea. Her work has appeared in Words Without Borders, Azalea: A Journal of Korean Literature and Culture, Drunken Boat, Pebble Lake Review, The Diagram, and other publications. She teaches at Ewha Womans University.
Read an Excerpt
It was my first phone call from him in eight years.
I recognized his voice right away. As soon as he said, “Hello?” I asked, “Where are you?” He didn’t say anything. Eight years—it was not a short length of time. Broken down into hours, the number would be unimaginable. I say it had been eight years, but we had stopped talking even before then. Once, at some get-together with friends, we had avoided each other’s eyes the whole time, and only when everyone was parting ways did we each other’s hand without the others seeing. That was it.
I don’t remember where we were. Only that it was after midnight, summer, and we were standing in front of some steep staircase in a hidden corner of the city. There must have been a fruit stand nearby. The scent floating in the humid air reminded me of biting into a plum. Taking his hand and letting it go was my way of saying good-bye. I did not know what he was thinking, but for me, all of the words I wanted to say to him had collected inside of me like pearls. I could not bring myself to say goodbye or see you later. If I had opened my mouth to say a single word, all of the other expired words would have followed and spilled to the ground, as if the string that held them together had snapped. Since I still clung to the memory of how we had grown and matured together, I was vexed by the thought that there would be no controlling my feelings once they came undone. But outwardly I feigned a look of composure. I did not want to spoil my memories of how we used to rely on each other.
Time is never fair or easy for anyone—not now and not eight years ago. When I calmly asked him where he was, despite not having heard from him in all of that time, I realized that the words I had not been able to say to him then were no longer pent up inside me.
Reading Group Guide
1. Which two characters do you feel share the strongest bond with one another? Are there any two that have an especially powerful connection, and if so, what makes their connection more compelling?
2. Do you think that this book has an optimistic or a pessimistic view of friendship and first loves?
3. What role does memory play in I’ll Be Right There? What might Shin be looking to say about our relationship to it?
4. What role does Professor Yoon play in everyone’s lives, and why is his death so significant? What does he “teach” Jung, Myungush, and Miru? Have you experienced a similar connection to a professor?
5. The characters in I’ll Be Right There are continually confronted by the impermanence of life and the pain of losing what is closest to them. What effect might this have on them both personally and politically?
6. What are Shin’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer? Do you prefer her narrative construction, her characters, her prose style, or some other aspect of her writing? Is she comparable to any other writers stylistically?
7. When Yoon observes Dahn’s equal fascination and fear of spiders, she wonders if love and fear share the same root. Are there other instances in the book when someone both loves and fears something?
8. The book contains many allusions to other writers, including Emily Dickinson. What do you think this book is trying to say about the use of art and literature in the face of politics and violence, and the power of literature as a link between people?
9. At one point, Myungush wonders “What would have happened to us if it weren’t for Yoon?” Why does Yoon becomes so integral to the relationship between Miru and Myungush?
10. Why doesn’t Yoon speak to Myungsuh about Dahn’s death? What are other instances in this book when someone keeps a secret, and why do you think they do so?
11. What does this novel teach us about the ways in which we can better cope with loss and grief in our own lives?