cover image I Went to See My Father

I Went to See My Father

Kyung-Sook Shin, trans. from the Korean by Anton Hur. Astra, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-66260-137-8

In the touching if plodding latest from Shin (Please Look After Mom), a woman named Hon returns from Seoul to her rural hometown in South Korea to live with her father. Hon’s young daughter died in an accident two years earlier in Seoul, and memories of her daughter and the details of what happened gradually emerge along with flashbacks of her own childhood. After Hon discovers a cache of letters written by her father to her siblings, she realizes his quiet reserve has been hiding a series of traumas, including the loss of his parents in a series of epidemics when he was 14 and his survival of the Korean War at 17, when every day felt like “mayhem.” Hon’s meditations on her childhood and her father’s life accrue into a portrait of rural living during rapid industrialization, and though there’s not much momentum, Shin excels at describing how Hon’s memories return at unexpected moments. While gazing at whitewater rapids, Hon is struck by the fear that she’ll forget her daughter’s face, and by the strangeness of suddenly seeing her daughter in the river’s foam. Like life itself, this digressive meditation alternates from moments of dullness to startling beauty. Agent: Barbara Zitwer, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. (Apr.)