This is a novel about a novelist who writes about her own past and opens an emotional well that she has hidden from herself for her entire professional life. As readers, we learn about her past through her writing, which reads like a flashback.
I love that this book is about writing to understand oneself. I really relate to the narrator asking herself why she writes what she does, as well as her questions over what she should omit and include in her written personal history.
In both the past and present, we watch the protagonist struggle with her sense of identity. In her adult writer life, she works to reconcile her current traumatized self and the actual events of the past.
Her flashback life takes place during a politically chaotic time in Korea. It’s the 1970s. She’s an assembly line factory worker and the work is dangerous, sometimes lethal. During this time, we watch her desperately try to make sense of herself, family, and her situation, but she remains perpetually confused, like most people of that age (she’s in her late teens).
In the present, as she unwinds her history, she exposes her wounds to us and gives us a glimpse into her fear, guilt, and eventual reconciliation with her past. There are a lot of time jumps, but I got used to them quickly. The suspense is in finding out exactly what she doesn’t want to remember and why she’d avoiding it.
I found the writing to be atmospheric and moody. Sometimes I loved it and sometimes I found it tedious. There are times when her flashback life is so horrific that it almost comes off as dystopian, even though it is from a real time in history. However, I found this a little bit uplifting. It demonstrates that we do get through rough political times like these, even if we find ourselves repeating them.