25 May / Umma’s Table by Yeon-sik Hong, translated by Janet Hong [in Booklist]
For artist Madang Bae, life is divided into two opposing spheres, “The world I’ve worked so hard to leave behind … and the world I’ve worked so hard to build.” The former is dominated by his abusive, alcoholic father and his beloved, long-suffering mother. The latter is the haven he’s created with his wife and baby son, recently relocated to a bucolic village where a garden, chickens, and kind neighbors nourish the family.
But Madang’s aging parents are trapped in a stifling basement apartment in Seoul, his mother’s health rapidly failing. Caring for this frail version of his mother brings back youthful memories of her unconditional devotion: to feed was to love, with “Umma’s Table” always feast-ready despite difficult circumstances. As he struggles to provide comfort during her inevitable demise, Madang must also confront his own complicity in her decades of isolated neglect.
As if to allow some semblance of distance from the raw vulnerability, Yeon-sik Hong (Uncomfortably Happily, 2017) presents his characters as anthropomorphized felines in his sophomore anglicized title; kudos to award-winning Janet Hong, who also translated the Korean graphic classics-in-the-making, Bad Friends (2018) and Grass (2019). Wrenchingly relevant, Hong presents a piercing examination of the sandwich-generation impossibly caught between multi-generational responsibilities, navigating labyrinthine sociomedical systems, and enduring the torment of never being able to do enough.