15 Oct / The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Kyung-sook Shin, translated by Ha-yun Jung [in Library Journal]
Credited with revitalizing Korea’s publishing industry, Shin’s 2011 Please Look After Mom (the author’s debut in English) made this international powerhouse the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize. Her latest, arriving stateside 20 years after its Korean publication, is part memoir, part portrait-of-an-artist-as-a-teenager, and part writing treatise.
Shin is the eponymous girl at 16, sent from her village to live in a “lone room” in Seoul with her oldest brother and cousin to work tedious hours in an electronics factory for the opportunity to attend high school at night. Korea in 1978 is an economically and politically unstable country whose youth will pay the highest price for the phenomenal success to come.
Sixteen years later, Shin is an established writer, contacted by a former classmate: “You don’t write about us… Could it be you’re ashamed?” The years of elision yield to fraught memories: her reclamation of her own name and age, her tenuous relationships, the teacher who gifted her with a book and the belief she could be the novelist she would become.
Verdict: Girl stands the test of time. Isolation and suicide among young adults worldwide have only tragically multiplied, making Girl urgently auspicious. Described at beginning and end as “not quite fact and not quite fiction,” this book is essential reading.
Published: 1995 (South Korea), 2015 (United States)