Author: Bae Suah
Translator: Sora Kim Russell
The trend in publishing these days is novellas. Short novels, tad longer than a short story are found to be the best reading for time starved people of today. In the hands of wrong people such Book Shots (as the novellas are sometimes called) can go horribly wrong. In the hands of right authors it can become a potent weapon.
I have read two short books today. One was The Vegetarian by Han Kang, not a very long novel. This is my second read, this novella Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah.
The girl in the story is in her early twenties, a college graduate, but a drifter. She is not able to make any headway in her career by two seeming reasons. One, she does not seem to have any particular ambition; Two, she has to work hard just to put food on the table. Her brother is a low paid janitor. Her mother is a nurse who cannot work because she is an alcoholic. Her younger sister is in school and her father is in jail.
Even so, while working in mind numbing jobs, she observes everything acutely. She notices that the people she is in touch with now will not have any memory of her in a few years time, while there are people that she runs into on the subway who will become known to her in future. This same fluidity is incorporated in the story when she goes to visit a 'sort of' boyfriend at his military base one day. Due to a mix up at the reception, she is led off on a wild goose chase after her boyfriend through a bleak cold countryside. All the time, she was carrying a bag of chicken that the boyfriend's mother had prepared.
All through the bad day, she gathers hatred for chicken, and hatred for the kind of life her boyfriend's family leads. The day becomes a benchmark for all things horrid for her. A day that she revisits in her mind for a long time. Yet that day was transitional for her. She is no longer in touch with her boyfriend of the day. All she has are the feelings she gathered.
Through disjointed narrative, Bae Suah takes us into a journey through a girl's mind. A girl who is ordinary on the outside, but fiercely independent and strong.
The prose is sharp as knife and does not make any allowances for its readers. It seeks neither to explain nor describe.
The story was nominated for PEN Translation Prize for the year 2015. Bae Suah is an acclaimed writer from South Korea.