Boy reading book. Photo by Bùi Nam Phong from Pexels.

International Date Line by Jeon Sam-hye

“Do you really want to write?”

I looked up. Did Mom really say that just now? Mom was looking at me as if she were waiting for an answer.

I hesitated before answering. “Yes.”

The answer had run through my vocal chords and popped out of my own mouth, but it sounded strange. Even to me.

“Then go.”

Synopsis

Three high school students dream of becoming writers as they search for a way through the complexities of the Korean student literary competitions and the entrenched culture of college entrance. Forced into an artificial competition, the three students must keep their wits about them to not let the pressures of college entrance and empty success compromise their artistic vision and their very humanity.

The narrator Hyunsu is a high school junior who is used to going to on-site writing contests alone. His school is unsupportive, his parents seem indifferent, and he himself isn’t sure of his own talents or even interest. The only friend who seems to understand him is Wujin, another aspiring writer going to a different high school. Yet Hyunsu continues to write as if the search for a reason was reason enough. Tired of going to writing meets alone, he posts on International Date Line—an online forum for aspiring student writers who go to writing contests—an ad for a lunch buddy. A girl responds, who upon meeting turns out to be the notorious Yoonhee, a high school senior who has swept multiple awards in the writing contests, inspiring jealousy and false rumors.

The more Hyunsu gets to know Yoonhee, the more he realizes she is misunderstood and nursing wounds of her own. He also discovers that Yoonhee and Wujin have an ugly history together in what is a twisted rivalry of lies, misunderstandings, guilt, and plagiarism. Hyunsu tries to save his friendship with them, but in order to do so, he has to lie to one about the other.

Then one summer, Hyunsu and Wujin spontaneously decide to have a day off by the sea instead of taking the bus to an intercity writing meet, but even there they find that they cannot run away from the truth. Then, the three writers attend the same overnight writing meet in a town outside of Seoul, where they finally confront the tangle of untruths and learn what it means to be real writers, real adults, and real friends.

About the author

Jeon Sam-hye was born and raised in Korea. She studied fiction writing in college. She has published two books, the novel International Date Line (Munhakdongnae, 2011) and the short-story collection Boy Girl Revolution (Munhakdongnae, 2015), and contributed to numerous literary anthologies. In the English language, Jeon made her translation debut opening the 2016 queer issue of Words Without Borders with “Genesis,” participated in a multi-lingual exquisite corpse project for the April 2017 issue of Slice Magazine, and also appeared in a 2017 edition of Anomaly (formerly Drunken Boat) on speculative fiction by women writers in translation with “A Spell to Invoke the White Dolphin.” Her YA fiction ranges widely from science fiction to queer themes and social realism, combining multiple perspectives in a relentlessly clear prose style.

Regarding International Date Line, the author has noted: “I was also a ‘writing contest kid.’ Whenever I ate lunch alone or rode home on the bus alone, I would be surrounded by all the words I failed to write in the actual competition. This work is my first full-length novel, and it’s what I came up with the summer of my twenty-third year when I stopped going to writing meets. And now, at twenty-five, I get to share this story with more people than ever before.”

Critical reception

“A writer is not merely someone who writes but someone who brings to the surface something mysterious from inside of us. That’s why to a writer, a sentence is not a mere tool or rhetoric but the thing itself. Jeon Sam-hye is in control of a precise and deep-cutting scalpel. She uses this scalpel to bring to the surface those mysteries of the heart we keep hidden deep inside.”—Kim Jin-kyoung (poet, children’s book author)

“Instead of dismissing the literary aspirations of young writers as romantic fluff, Jeon uses her characters’ struggle in their attempts to reconcile their writing and the college entrance system to answer the larger question of, ‘What is literature?’ This questioning allows us to get to the very root of why we write. The novel is a herald for a new kind of writing for a new generation.”—Yu Youngjin (critic)

For rights inquiries and a translation sample, please contact:

Eom Heejeong, Munhakdongnae Children’s Books Editor

hjeom@munhak.com, 82-2-3144-3236, http://www.munhak.com

Sooyun Yum, English Team, Literature Translation Institute of Korea

ysooyun@klti.or.kr, 82-2-6919-7734, http://www.ltikorea.org