Book Review: Concerning My Daughter, Kim Hye-Jin

“Knowing that this is the reality for the majority is no comfort to me. Rather, knowing my daughter is one of them shocks and alarms me daily and brings down upon me the full force of my disappointment and guilt. Maybe she’s spent too much time studying. Maybe I’ve allowed her too much unnecessary education. She learned and learned, and ended up learning things she shouldn’t have: how to resist the ways of the world, how to be at odds with it.”

It’s rare that we get to see inside the mind of someone who expresses distaste with her daughter’s sexual orientation, someone who might be labeled “homophobic” when the issue is far more complex than that. Someone with so much to learn, even at such a late age in life, as the narrator does.

The narrator allows her thirty-something daughter and her daughter’s lesbian partner move back in with her, even though she doesn’t accept their relationship. She can’t possibly see a life for her daughter that doesn’t revolve around finding a man, a stable career, and settling down.

At the same time, the narrator takes care of an older woman in a nursing home who has no children and is being neglected by the rest of the staff, forced to reuse diapers among other things. She sees herself in the older woman and struggles to come to terms with the way her own life has shaken itself out.

I was very frustrated with the narrator throughout the whole book, obviously. She’s so wonderfully portrayed. There was one scene in which she left the house in a huff, it having been taken over by her daughter and her daughter’s questionable friends, but she even admits that the kind of atmosphere the daughter’s friends brought to the house was something that she wished for. (“I rush out of the house and keep walking for a while before thinking back to what just happened there. The voices of many people varying in tone and timbre settled in every corner of the house, clearing out the silence and breathing life into it. The house stretching its sleepy limbs and becoming a home. Maybe that’s what I just saw back there. The house bustling with people coming and going. What I wish I had every now and then.”) There were moments I wanted to pull my hair out because she was failing to see something important, something that lied just past her prejudice.

The translation of this novel was very well-done and fluid. It was heavy, as the subject matter is, but not too heavy-handed.

I would recommend this book to anyone on the lgbtq spectrum and allies, with the caveat that it will frustrate you and portions can be triggering, but it is a beautiful novel to watch unfold. I’d be interested in seeing a reaction from someone who might relate more to the mother, even though the novel is not written for that audience. (Then again: who is the audience, if not for the mother?)

“Sitting across from me the girls eat with their heads bowed. So close I could reach out and touch them. I didn’t know just how far away they were, how they were, or even where they stood with their feet planted in the ground. Everything is becoming clear now. They stand right in the middle of life. They are standing with their feet planted on firm ground, not in fantasies or daydreams. Like me. Like everyone else. They exist in the thick of life, terrifying, relentless. What they see from where they stand, what they are trying to see, what they will see, I cannot even imagine.”

Thanks to Nathan at Restless Books for the digital copy of this book.

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