“Beautifully wrought” – The Waiting by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

IMG_22Nov2021at125203If you would like the short hand, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s latest feels like a work that deceptively marries the light heartedness of a book like Moms by Yeong-shin Ma with the surprising history of a novel like Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

We open with a character who may not be all that dissimilar from Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, in that she is a writer approaching middle age who has a sort of up and down relationship with her mum. Having lived close enough to help her mum out, she has since moved slightly further away and now worries more (and is arguably made to feel a little guilty about it by other family members).

The narrative splits relatively early on between the daughter and the mother and there are often pages at a time that pass wordlessly as we watch them going about their business (the mother doing her laundry, for example, ignoring the telephone, eating food, walking in the park). Slowly, we learn that there is a lost son somewhere out there in the world. What could that possibly mean?

And then we go back to when the mother was much, much younger, living in North Korea. We see her marry and start a family. We glimpse the differences between their culture and our own, and the similarities too. When war erupts, many thousands of people are driving south, and as they are strafed by planes, many are split up too. The mother loses sight of her husband and her son.

Years go by. The mother effectively remarries, with a man who also lost his wife on the journey south. And then the Red Cross start trying to reunite families – families who have stayed behind in North Korea, new families that have sprouted up in South Korea, but of the many, many thousands, only hundreds at a time are offered the opportunity to meet up, via a strange lottery system, and then only once, in a heavily mediated environment.

Can all of this be true, you think as you read? Did this actually happen? Is it happening right now? It feels shocking but the delivery is muted and numb (in a way that perfectly suits the story). As with Grass, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim has created an intensely moving story that is beautifully wrought.

Any Cop?: The Waiting is strange and unusual, doing the job of bringing history at once unfamiliar to this reader to vivid life. Highly recommended.

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