This emotionally explosive read has left me with a book hangover that I can’t seem to budge that easily. “I’ll Be Right There” has also made its way as a first Korean read and was I glad to have stumbled upon it at one of my favorite bookstores in the capital. Here we have four college friends as they deal with their own personal scars against the backdrop of an unsettled South Korean capital of Seoul in the 80’s that reminded me of what my own country experienced back in ’98. Constant student protests were no stranger to them, but this book has proven that sometimes unresolved pain and mistakes of the past could take a bigger toll than the sharp tang of tear gas could do to the eyes.
As soon as we open up the pages, Jung Yoon as our main girl opens up with a prologue that describes her receiving a phone call from her first love Myungush after eight years – to say that their old professor is dying. However, she couldn’t bring herself to go for a visit. And it is then we dive into her reflection on those memorable and tumultuous years with the troubled Miru, Myungsuh and her childhood friend Dahn.
These days, I have been drawn to stories where it involves the unraveling of events that have shaped a group of people just like these four. In the end, they became such intriguing and real people that I would have thought to be my own friends. Anyways,
Yoon, Myungsuh and Miru are connected and inspired by one professor, Professor Yoon, who tells them the story of St. Christopher who carries a surprisingly heavy child across a river only to realize that it was Jesus Christ bringing the weight of everyone’s sins on his shoulder.
As political tension rises, we will see how these four friends found comfort in each other. Miru holds a diary where she records everything that she eats. This might seem trivial in manner but it counts for some revelation. It is in her diary that they write continuous stories in cadavre exquis (credits to the NY Times for introducing this term!) that it becomes aa way for them to heal and reveal their struggles. Not only that, Kyung has cleverly slipped in bits of European literature with names such as Romain Roland, Francis Jammes and even Emily Dickinson.
However, we learn that “Literature and art are not simply what will carry you; they are also what you must lay down your life for” as told by Professor Yoon. Nevertheless, these lonely individuals as impeccably painted by Shin hold words so dear to their heart to arrive at some kind of solace.
Upon ending, you will find that the last shreds of tragedy they experienced seem to linger around you, but no worries. This effect will wear off in a few days if you let it.