Title: I’ll Be Right There
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Publisher: Other Press
Edition: Trade Paperback, 324 pages
Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When after eight years of separation Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to relive the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.
Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.
When I was working in South Korea, my coworker and I got to talking about good books. And she recommend an author that has been translated to English; this was Kyung-Sook Shin and the book was Please Look After Mom. I ended up really enjoying it and it allowed me to further understand Korean culture. I came across I’ll Be Right There in the bookstore and was drawn in the period of Korean contemporary history that I’m a little familiar with from TV shows and the like.
Korea went through a period where university students were protesting the government and it was a period of great turmoil for the students, their families, and the country. The novel was careful in the way to not entirely focus on specific events but rather the emotions and relationships built on such circumstances. Because of this, I think that it does allow for anyone – Korean or not – to be able to empathize and connect with the novel.
For those interested in Korean literature, Kyung-Sook Shin is a good author to start with – I would definitely start with Please Look After Mom.