cover image Violets


Kyung-sook Shin, trans. from the Korean by Anton Hur. Feminist Press, $15.95 tra

Man Asian Literary Prize winner Shin (Please Look After Mom) takes a disturbing and evocative look at an isolated young woman. Oh San was born unwanted in rural South Korea, and her father abandons the family shortly after. Ostracized and lonely, San’s only friend during her school years is neighbor Sur Namae, but their friendship ends suddenly and violently after a moment of romantic intimacy, a rejection San never recovers from. At 22, dreaming of becoming a writer, she works at a flower shop in Seoul, where she befriends the owner’s niece, Su-ae. The two young women become roommates, and the worldlier Su-ae teaches San how to deal with plants and aggressive customers. However, their relationship becomes strained after a photographer shows up to take photos of violets for a magazine. The photographer compliments San and takes photos of her as well, which initially makes her feel uneasy, but leads to an obsession with him. In one of her bids for attention, which makes her increasingly remote from Su-ae, she plants violets near his office, and the fixation ends up taking a dark turn. With sensuous prose intuitively translated by Hur, Shin vividly captures San’s tragic failure to connect with others. This is hard to put down. (Apr.)