Winter In Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

In a resort town on the border of North and South Korea in deep Winter, a French-Korean receptionist at a guesthouse meets a graphic novelist from France. Immediately drawn to him, she agrees to shown him around her town and hopes that he will not just see the town as she sees it, but also really see her.

This is a really lovely, very short debut novel, just 150 pages, and it won the Prix Robert Walser Award. It has a measured, lyrical tone and the authors unique voice comes across in every page.

I felt like this novel was slightly elusive in a way that I really liked. We have the small town of Sokcho drawn for us by the author, with it’s abandoned feel in Winter. In Summer we know it comes to life, but we never see it. We know that the artists name is Kerrand, but our protagonist never has a name. And at the end, I wondered after finishing it, if she found peace by falling in love with a French man and letting him go, which is like a happy version of her own parents story. Or if the event helped her understand and forgive her mother. Or if there was another meaning, based on what she cooks him for their last meal together. Something much darker.

I felt a strong sense of how the places smelled and how they looked, and the cold. It felt like it was crumbling in some way, and that while everyone was telling her to go study somewhere or improve her looks with surgery like a lot of other people around her were doing, she listlessly wants to stay right there. She couldn’t leave her mother, but also resented her. In spare words and a short amount of pages, I really felt each character in this book.

Kerrand himself is interesting, with his arrogance and lack of understanding. He gets ink on the floor everywhere and opens paper packets in the stationery store, ruining stock. He wants to see Korean things, but can’t really see what’s in front of him. He seems to eat paper a lot and draw, with a sense that the drawings are almost alive. I loved those moments. She wants him to see her, the real her. And I think in her damaged self she can’t see that maybe he does see her.

I really enjoyed the oddness of this book. It’s like a little snapshot of a life, from her world to his. Both sad lonely figures. I can’t wait to see what the else the author writes. It was a beautifully written thing, and I enjoyed it a lot. I also loved reading about the cold and water pipes freezing and catching fish when it was 40c weather and Summer. It felt refreshing in more ways than one.

Read It If: you like elusive, haunting stories that stay with you after you read them, wondering what you want the ending to mean, this is for you. Really good.

Thank you PGC Books for the copy of this book for review. Winter In Sokcho is out now.

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