cover image I Hear Your Voice

I Hear Your Voice

Young-Ha Kim, trans. from the Korean by Krys Lee. Mariner, $13.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-32447-3

The plight of an orphan whose teenage mother disappears after giving birth to him in a bus terminal bathroom sets off Kim’s dark tale about teenage gangs and the underside of Korean city life. The orphan, Jae, taken in at birth by a flower shop owner, befriends Donggyu, a young boy about his age with functional aphonia. They form a connection as Jae is able to give voice to Donggyu’s needs. The two eventually lose touch and reconnect as young teenagers when Jae is living hand to mouth, having escaped first his adoptive mother’s meth addiction and then a run-down orphanage where the children aren’t treated much better than the caged dogs of a nearby breeder. Jae gets involved with motorcycle gangs and becomes one of their leaders. Donggyu, though still a teenager, leaves the comforts of home to join him, and his feelings about Jae, which waver from adoration to murderous jealousy, are vividly portrayed. Once a motorcycle cop is introduced to the story, Kim explores the cop’s assaultive behavior with young men who routinely break the law, underscoring their difficult circumstances. In a final chapter, the author reveals how he met the actual Donggyu and heard about his friend, Jae, and subsequently decided to write a novel inspired by their lives. Kim casts an unwavering spotlight on the gritty street life of teenagers, capturing their angst, ennui, and vulnerability. (July)