I Hear Your Voice by Young-ha Kim, translated by Krys Lee [in Booklist]
In the West, K-pop, K-drama, and “Gangnam Style” are synonymous with contemporary South Korea. Less well known is an underbelly class of street youth, battling abandonment, brutality, and worse.
Kim (Black Flower, 2012), one of Korea’s most lauded writers, takes readers into Seoul’s grittiest corners, beginning in a bus terminal bathroom stall where a teenager gives birth alone. The baby, Jae, is initially well cared for by a stranger, until drugs rob him of any semblance of family connections. Jae eventually escapes a remote orphanage to return to Seoul’s streets, reemerging as an ascetic surviving on handfuls of uncooked rice.
His ascent among the city’s motorcycle gangs is revealed through multiple perspectives, including a once-mute childhood friend, a girlfriend of sorts, and a police officer-sexual predator. Near the book’s conclusion, Kim inserts himself via a meta-addendum explaining how Jae’s story became his latest fiction.
Elegantly rendered into English by Krys Lee, author of How I Became a North Korean (she is also translating Kim’s next novel), this is a wrenching examination of discarded youth, abuses of power, and the irreparable disintegration of societal structures.
Published: 2017 (United States)