Shoko’s Smile: Stories

Choi Eunyoung, trans. from the Korean by Sung Ryu. Penguin Books, $17 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-14-313526-5
Eunyoung’s engaging debut collection examines her protagonists’ interior lives in moments of longing, connection, and familial rift. In the title story, 10th-grader Shoko stays with Soyu during a week-long exchange program between South Korea and Japan, hoping to lay the groundwork for her dream of one day leaving Japan. Soyu notes how her grandfather’s talking with Shoko in Japanese makes him and her mother come alive (“I used to think they were like grandfather clocks that had stopped ticking, that gathered dust and faded in color each year”). In “Hanji and Youngju,” 27-year-old Youngju lives in a monastery for seven months and thinks about life passing her by, feeling guilty over abandoning grad school to be there. She is drawn to Hanji, a new volunteer at the monastery who is a veterinarian from Nairobi. She’s surprised how easy it is to speak with him as they share moments from their lives they’ve never told anyone before. In “Michaela,” the title character receives an ill-fated visit from her hairdresser mother in Seoul and recounts a trip they took there three decades earlier to hear the pope give a mass. Eunyoung’s lyrical prose and complex characters will captivate readers. Agent: Barbara Zitwer, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/06/2021
Release date: 06/01/2021
Genre: Fiction
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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