Acclaimed South Korean short-fiction writer Choi Eunyoung offers a new set of tales that balance the personal and political, exploring fraught relationships, travel and the role of South Korea in the Vietnam War.
Each is written with sober detail, filmic precision and absolute control. Everything, from the three-decade occupation of Korea by Japan to the consequences of the Vietnam war, is explored with the lightest of touches and without losing sight of the central characters’ motivations and personalities ... an incredibly impressive collection told with realism, seriousness and moral integrity. The stories are painful and complex but never depressing. They show what it’s like to be an ordinary person with a painful past and an unknowable future, living out the years in the cold light of day.
Large historical crises form a thrumming undercurrent to the lives of these ordinary individuals ... moving ... Choi leaves the reader with moments that are equal parts jewel and hot coal ... Each of these moments is a painful gift.
There is a lot to unpack here: the dilemmas of wasted youth, depression, family conflicts, loss. But Choi and her frank, sensible writing set just the right pace and put just the right weight in the storytelling, so the weight of these themes is not belittled, yet it doesn’t make for an unpleasant or overwhelming read either. The display of the stories is interesting as well: it’s almost as if the characters’ awareness, or honesty, about their own needs is gradually increasing across the book ... Such is the grace and delicacy with which the characters open up themselves that the reader can’t help but be taken by surprise whenever they’re hit with epiphanies or moments of straightforwardness ... Choi’s writing is simple in its wording but filled with a great emotional depth that makes Shoko’s Smile an enthralling experience disguised as a fast, unchallenging read.