I went to see my father A novel

Kyŏng-suk Sin

Book - 2023

"In the wake of a personal tragedy, a novelist goes back home in the Korean countryside to take care of her gentle father and learns, through the testimonies of his loving family and friends, how his lifelong kindness belies a past wrought in both private and national trauma"--

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FICTION/Sin, Kyong-suk
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Location Call Number   Status
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New York : Astra House [2023]
Main Author
Kyŏng-suk Sin (author)
Other Authors
Anton Hur (translator)
First edition
Physical Description
283 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Shin (Violets, 2022), the first woman Man Asian Literary Prize winner, reunites with award-winning translator Hur. In what is clearly a companion to internationally best-selling Please Look after Mom (2011), Shin again combines autobiographical elements to explore the absences, layers, and nuances of parent-child relationships. "All I've done is live through it," the father insists on the opening page, presented as both dedication and preface and immediately blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Like Shin, Hon is the fourth child and oldest daughter in a family of six siblings born and raised in a tiny village. She's now an award-winning writer living in Seoul, but she's returned home to see her father while her mother undergoes cancer treatment in the capital. Losing her young daughter has left Hon untethered. Her childhood attachment to her father has long frayed, and the exhausted, confused old man she finds is almost a stranger. Only as his life wanes will Hon, and her siblings, come to understand an extraordinary existence of dedication, sacrifice, and unconditional love haunted by impossible betrayal and debilitating guilt. Once more, Shin masterfully glides between quotidian details and astounding feats of survival revealed through multiple voices (older brothers, their mother, a wartime friend) and formats (letters, recordings, long chat messages) to create another universally empathic masterpiece.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In the touching if plodding latest from Shin (Please Look After Mom), a woman named Hon returns from Seoul to her rural hometown in South Korea to live with her father. Hon's young daughter died in an accident two years earlier in Seoul, and memories of her daughter and the details of what happened gradually emerge along with flashbacks of her own childhood. After Hon discovers a cache of letters written by her father to her siblings, she realizes his quiet reserve has been hiding a series of traumas, including the loss of his parents in a series of epidemics when he was 14 and his survival of the Korean War at 17, when every day felt like "mayhem." Hon's meditations on her childhood and her father's life accrue into a portrait of rural living during rapid industrialization, and though there's not much momentum, Shin excels at describing how Hon's memories return at unexpected moments. While gazing at whitewater rapids, Hon is struck by the fear that she'll forget her daughter's face, and by the strangeness of suddenly seeing her daughter in the river's foam. Like life itself, this digressive meditation alternates from moments of dullness to startling beauty. Agent: Barbara Zitwer, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. (Apr.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

In this long-awaited follow-up to the Man Asian Literary Prize--winning Please Look After Mom, Shin uses the same narrative style but instead focuses on a father. One of six adult children, a South Korean woman named Hon visits her aging father after a two-year period of mourning following the loss of her own daughter. Hon has discovered a chest full of her father's letters whose contents help her create a comprehensive portrait of a man and a father whom she had known little about. Along with narratives from Hon's siblings, stories about the father's childhood, his experience during the war, and his life as a husband and parent are all relayed together in a gentle manner while still powerfully conveying an immense amount of strength and imagery in her characterizations throughout. VERDICT Shin successfully crafts yet another beautifully presented and heart-rending tale, giving readers much to ponder. Not to be missed, it will appeal not just to fans of Please Look After Mom but to anyone who enjoys strong, introspective storytelling; also a good candidate for book groups.--Shirley Quan

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

The fully rounded character of an elderly father--a man of few words but many tears, now mildly confused--is explored during his adult daughter's return. It's been more than two years since novelist Hon last visited her family home in J--, a village in South Korea, having stayed away from her parents since the death of her young daughter. But with her mother in Seoul for medical treatment, Hon is back to keep her father company, and so begins an episodic excursion into the past, focused on Father's hidden existence and experience. On one level, this novel is a recent history of South Korea, as Father was born in 1933 during the Japanese occupation, experienced the war at age 17, and later lived through enormous financial, social, and material shifts. On another level, it's an almost banal account of a minor life; Father was "born in a completely ordinary farming house...in the middle of nowhere in southern Korea, prevented from setting foot in school and never leaving home except for survival itself, living a life of dust." But behind this facade of Father's are complexity, suffering, deception, generosity, and striving--to support a wife and six children, with commitments to giving them all a college education despite his unreliable income from farming. And there are secrets, too. Shin, whose work has previously considered roots, rural life, literature, and generational shifts, mines not unfamiliar territory but uses a wider perspective here, considering Father from multiple directions, although principally Hon's, while incorporating letters and memories into the contemporary flow. It's a gentle yet piercing technique, with family dynamics unearthed affectingly: Hon was a favored child; Eldest Son was loaded with expectation and responsibility; Second Son, saved from death by his father's intervention, carries a different psychological burden. Ultimately, Father finds the words, just 11 of them, but enough. A sensitively crafted family portrait that's both specific and universal and, above all, humane. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.