“I’ll Be Right There” by Kyung-sook Shin
This is only Korean author Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English. Her first, Please Look After Mom, hit the New York Time Bestseller list, but her second translated novel, I’ll Be Right There, is my favorite, exploring themes and territories that surpasses the ”Oprah book club”-esque nature of her past novels.
I’ll Be Right There follows Yoon, a woman who gets a sudden phone call from an ex-boyfriend she hadn’t spoken to in nearly 18 years. Her ex tells her that a beloved college professor is on their death bed. This triggers Yoon to go on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing of her college days during South Korea’s tumultuous ’90s, a time filled with political turmoil, protests, and tear gas.
But this is not a political novel. The politics play as a backdrop to the four pivotal characters, Yoon, Dahn, Myungsuh, and Miry, as they navigate past heartaches, idealism, and loneliness. There’s a lot of death in this novel — so much that it almost takes on a desensitizing effect. But probably what’s most impressive about the book is how it manages to be a page-turner despite having a minimal plot. At the end of the day, people die, people break up, and people live on despite their adversaries. But through friendship and the power of art, some can learn to charge through it.