No One Writes Back

Jang Eun-Jin

translated from the Korean by Jung Yewon
Dalkey Archive Press 2013
A book review by Danny Yee © 2015
Accompanied only by his blind guide-dog Wajo, Jihun has spent three years travelling without a goal, staying in motels and writing old-fashioned printed letters to the people he meets, to whom he assigns numbers. And then he encounters 751, a woman who has written a novel Toothpaste and Soap and is trying to sell it directly to the public on trains and in parks, with whom he develops an awkward but involved relationship. There follow a variety of twists and turns, in which we learn more about Jihun's background history (there is some implausibility in so much of this happening in the short time after meeting 751). And everything is brought to a not entirely surprising but still quite satisfying conclusion.

No One Writes Back is divided into a hundred and fifty-two numbered sections, ranging from just one sentence ("No one wrote me.") to three or four pages. As well as successive episodes of the main narrative, these contain some letters, notably from Jihun to his family, and vignettes of some of the people he had encountered previously: 32, who he saved from suicide and swapped shoelaces with; 109, a fashion designer who became a traveling vendor because of a girl; and so forth.

Much of this is a little off-beat, but it remains solidly grounded and never ventures into the surreal. And everything is handled light-heartedly, though Jang does touch on themes such as educational overzealousness and body dysmorphia. There is a distinctly Korean flavour to No One Writes Back, but it completely avoids the political emphasis of so much Korean writing; it is a lively entertainment that would make an accessible approach to the country's literature.

July 2015

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%T No One Writes Back
%A Jang Eun-Jin
%M Korean
%F Yewon, Jung
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2013 [2009]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781564789600
%P 203pp