R.O. Kwon

Little, Brown Book Group
United Kingdom
28 May 2024


R.O. Kwon

At a lavish party in the hills outside of San Francisco, Jin Han meets Lidija Jung and nothing will ever be the same for either woman. A brilliant young photographer, Jin is at a crossroads in her work, in her marriage to her college love Phillip, and in who she is and who she wants to be. Lidija is an alluring, injured world-class ballerina on hiatus from her ballet company under mysterious circumstances. Drawn to each other by their intense artistic drives, the two women talk all night.

Cracked open, Jin finds herself telling Lidija about an old familial curse, breaking a lifelong promise. She's been told that if she doesn't keep the curse a secret, she risks losing everything; death and ruin could lie ahead. As Jin and Lidija become more entangled, they realize they share more than the ferocity of their ambition, and begin to explore hidden desires. Something is ignited in Jin: her art, her body, and her sense of self irrevocably changed. But can she avoid the specter of the curse? Urgent, bold, and deeply moving, this novel asks: how brightly can you burn before you light your life on fire?


Jin feels stuck. She’s at a crossroads in her career as a photographer, and lately she’s been unsatisfied with her marriage to her college sweetheart, Phillip. Phillip has begun expressing his desire for children, which Jin has never felt any urge to have, while she would prefer to explore newer things in the bedroom to spice up their dwindling sex life. But when Jin meets Lidija Jung, a beautiful world-famous ballerina recently retired due to her injuries, a spark is lit up inside Jin that she thought had long ago been put out. With Lidija, Jin falls in love again with art, with her body, and with love itself.

Throughout the novel, Jin is haunted by the story of the kisaeng – enslaved women who were trained to be courtesans, entertaining the men of the upper class with their beauty and artistic talents. Looming over her like a spectre, Jin is both frightened and intrigued by what Lidija offers; the desires kept repressed, her ambition in her art, and a life outside what social and cultural norms tell her to follow. This is a story of passion, but not where the fire burns quick and bright; rather, a slower, more intense burn that reflects the ardent yearning Jin and Lidija have for each other and for something bigger than themselves.

R.O. Kwon’s beautiful prose and dreamlike story deftly comments on women’s rights (and decisions regarding their bodies in such matters as pregnancy, abortion, and sex), but also on racism, and the objectification and fetishisation of Asian women. Kwon achieves so much in just above 200 pages, weaving together a call for social change and a love story.

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