Violets: From the bestselling author of Please Look After Mother

Kyung-Sook Shin, Anton Hur

Violets: From the bestselling author of Please Look After Mother
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Violets: From the bestselling author of Please Look After Mother

Kyung-Sook Shin, Anton Hur

We join San in 1970s rural South Korea, a young girl ostracised from her community. She meets a girl called Namae, and they become friends until one afternoon changes everything. Following a moment of physical intimacy in a minari field, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path of quashed desire and isolation.


We next meet San, aged twenty-two, as she starts a job in a flower shop. There, we are introduced to a colourful cast of characters, including the shop’s mute owner, the other florist Su-ae, and the customers that include a sexually aggressive businessman and a photographer, who San develops an obsession for. Throughout, San’s moment with Namae lingers in the back of her mind.

A story of desire and violence about a young woman who everyone forgot, Violets is a captivating and sensual read, full of tragedy and beauty.

Review

In 1970s rural South Korea, two girls share a moment of physical intimacy in a minari field. One of the girls vehemently rejects the other, setting her on a path of destructive loneliness and repressed desire. We meet the rejected girl, San, many years later when she is 22 and working as a florist in Seoul. Navigating the isolation that comes with moving from the countryside to a bustling, ever-advancing city, San is a haunted character who cannot shake her feelings of abandonment and trauma.

As someone who is extremely excited by the increase in translated East Asian fiction in recent years, I was instantly intrigued by Kyung-Sook Shin’s latest work to become available in English. Originally written in 2001, Violets feels like it could have been written today. It is a slow-burning, delicate and unpredictable reflection on mental illness, violence and what it feels like to be perpetually alone. Underneath Shin’s tender descriptions of violets, ficus trees and sago palms, lies a biting indictment of a society that treats women with neglect and brutality.

What I admired most about Shin’s novel is how she represents the very real and lasting effects of trauma on individuals. Her portrait of a woman plagued by pain and repressed desire is chilling, tragic and masterfully teased out. Perfect for fans of Han Kang, Violets is a timely, beautiful novel. It is one I’m grateful to have read and one I hope many will pick up. You would be missing something truly great if you did not.


Tracy Hwang is a bookseller at Readings Emporium.

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