“Some lovers are like friends, while some friends are like lovers. Whenever I thought of Shoko, I was scared she would stop liking me.”
An award-winning debut from Choi Eunyoung, Shoko’s Smile is a collection of five short stories and two novellas that explore the joys and heartbreaks of human relationships as they blossom and wither. Largely following the nuanced relationships of women—between friends, lovers, and family—the book is a microscopic, almost obsessive, study of complex emotions underlying their personal interactions. The title story “Shoko’s Smile” is a novella about the fraught friendship between a Korean and Japanese girl unfolding over thirteen years as they struggle with their dreams and families. “Hanji and Youngju” is a novella about a Korean geology student and a young Kenyan man who bond at a French monastery but inexplicably grow apart one day. In “A Song from Afar,” a young woman suffering depression grapples with the premature death of the woman she loves and travels to Russia to find the latter’s old roommate. In “Xin Chào, Xin Chào,” a Korean and Vietnamese family meet as friendly neighbors in Germany but an unexpected argument about the Vietnam War ruins their relationship forever. In “Sister, My Little Soonae,” the sisterly love between two women collapses when one of their husbands is convicted of collaborating with North Korea in a notorious 1975 trial. In “Secret,” the parents of a part-time teacher killed in the Sewol ferry sinking hide her death from her ailing grandmother. “Michaela” is about the many daughters and mothers staging protests for a full investigation of the Sewol disaster.
Choi Eunyoung refrains from sensationalizing the horrors of these historical events, keeping the stories firmly grounded in the emotional realities of the characters through sparse and understated prose. Reminiscent of Alice Munroe and Elena Ferrante, it is the force of emotions bleeding through Choi’s language that disarms, breaks, and warms the reader’s heart. Ultimately, Shoko’s Smile gently arouses in us an empathy for the pain of others and ourselves.
“In this debut short story collection, you will find stories that study the full gamut of emotions you experience when you accept the fact [that you misunderstood the world], from shame and embarrassment to rage, hatred, and guilt. But a study is a study, and a story is a story. Choi Eunyoung’s biggest merit as a writer is that whatever she studies, she turns it into an extraordinary story.” –Kim Yeonsu, Author of Whoever You Are, No Matter How Lonely
“This collection signals the rise of a talented writer … We often grow close or distant to people without understanding why, but Choi Eunyoung captures what happens in our minds with her distinctly subtle style.” –Kim Young-ha, Author of Your Republic is Calling You
Title: Shoko’s Smile
Author: Choi Eunyoung
Genre: Short story collection
Publisher: Munhakdongne Publishing Corp.
Date of publication: July 7, 2016
Dimensions: 296 pages, 145x210mm
Number of sales: 80,000 copies (as of February 2018)
*Japanese rights sold (forthcoming in 2018)