Lonesome You

Park Wan-Suh

translated from the Korean by Elizabeth Haejin Yoon
Dalkey Archive Press 2013 [1998]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016 http://dannyreviews.com/
Park Wan-Suh published her first work at the age of forty and that is reflected in the ten stories in Lonesome You: where the typical protagonist in Korean fiction is a man in his twenties, here middle-aged women take centre stage, along with their mothers.

The stories mostly centre on coping with aging, caring for parents, negotiating family relationships, finding new friends and revisiting old connections, facing loneliness, and dealing with the challenges of everyday life. There are some plot dramas — unexpected inherited wealth, a mystery from childhood, a long-ago death, and so forth — but they remain largely circumstantial devices. And though the Civil War was central to Park's own life and to much of her work, here it features in just one story, when it tears apart a pair of village lovers, and the emphasis even here is on the memories and perspective of now middle-aged protagonists.

Lonesome You is a mixed bag, with stories that are rather varied in mood and feel despite their recurring themes. My favourites are probably the two opening stories. In "Withered Flower" an old woman, returning home alone from a rather unpleasant family wedding, meets an attractive older gentleman. Can she balance the demands of family while working out what she wants for herself? And in "Psychedelic Butterfly" the protagonist searches for a senile mother who has gone missing, in a story that highlights the centrality of place in memory, in the context of Seoul's urban sprawl and changes in housing.

Overall Lonesome You is an attractive and accessible collection, giving a feel for why Park achieved such popular and critical success.

August 2016

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%T Lonesome You
%A Park Wan-Suh
%M Korean
%F Yoon, Elizabeth Haejin
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2013 [1998]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781564789099
%P 252pp