The town was entombed in frost ….
Winter in Sokcho is a debut and already prizewinning novel from Elisa Shua Dusapin with a strong sense of atmosphere and place. At 154 pages it’s a quick to read and an engaging story set in the seaside resort of Sokcho on the border of South and North Korea.
A young woman works in the reception of a sparsely attended guesthouse her mother sells fish in the market:
“My mother lived at the port, above the loading bays, in one of the apartments reserved for fishmongers. Noisy, Cheap. My childhood home.”
Despite her inauspicious surroundings the narrator likes where she lives.
She has a boyfriend called Jun-oh who is off to Seoul to enroll on a modelling course (as in him becoming a model rather than making models out of clay).
Theirs is a modern relationship:
“He stood up, checked himself out in the mirror , said he didn’t think they’d expect him to have surgery, but if they did, he was prepared to have his nose, chin and eyes done. He turned to face me. Clinics were offering deals, by the way, I should look into it, he’d bring me some brochures for facial surgery.”
The girl’s mother seems to want her to have facial surgery too. If there is a quicker way than this to have an identity crisis I’m not sure what it is and the poor kid already has some kind of eating disorder. Interestingly another young lady – one of the few guests staying at the drab guesthouse – has her face all bandaged up, presumably as a result of having accepted one of the deals offered by the clinic.
Virginie Despentes says in her feminist text King Kong Theory (reviewed next):
“No society has ever demanded such complete submission to aesthetic diktats, so many modifications that purport to feminise the body.”
Whose ideals are we trying to live up to here? And why? This is one of the points that Dusapin makes but she does not push an agenda. Things in Sokcho simply are what they are. Take it or leave it.
A Frenchman – a comic book artist called Yan Kerrand – turns up at the guest house. We are not sure whether he will take it or leave it. He and the girl develop a semi- friendship and she accompanies him on a trip to the borderland between South and North.
This is a Korea of plastic waste and urban sprawl alongside the fishmarkets.
There is a lot of food, mostly fish, scowling, often unappetising sounding or even poisonous. The Frenchman declines the food, surviving off Dunkin’ Donuts during his stay. She is keen for him to set a story locally perhaps secretly she wants to be in the story.
I enjoyed this book, the way the landscape and Kerrand’s pen and ink drawings of it form a backdrop to the interior lives of the characters. The way he struggles to form a character – a line drawing – and how it slips frustratingly away in the composition.
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin. Translated into English by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Published by Daunt Books Originals 2020
2 out of 4 Women in Translation Month
12/20 Books of Summer
Question: does anyone else find the wordpress blocks editor slow, cumbersome, non-intuitive, inflexible, clunky and boring? Or maybe its just me.