Korean Author Kim Hye-Jin Releases First Novel Translated into English “Concerning My Daughter”

Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang, About my daughter is Kim Hye-Jin’s first book available in English. The author highlights issues such as cost of living, discrimination against LGBTQ communities, generational differences, aging and loneliness in South Korean society.

Green, a 30-year-old woman, is threatened by rising rental prices. Feeling lost and confused, she asks her mother—our unnamed narrator—for help by asking if she can get her a loan on her behalf. Green works as a traveling university lecturer and is not eligible for loans or public housing due to her non-permanent employment status. After some reflection, her mother invites her to move.

The mother, however, gets another unpleasant surprise when Green brings a woman, Lane, to live together. Conflicts arise when Mum discovers that they are more than just friends: Lane is Green’s longtime girlfriend. She is also the one who gave Green her nickname, which further annoys her mother. After accusing Lane of ruining her daughter, she tells her to leave Green so that she can “blend in” and live a “normal life”.

It’s easy to label the mother as traditional or homophobic. But as the story progresses, readers will understand why she is concerned about her daughter’s life choices, thus making it nearly impossible to hate her. At 70, all she can claim control over and exercise ownership over is an old dilapidated house left by her deceased husband.

She still works in a low-paying job as a caregiver in a nursing home caring for a dementia patient, Jen. She needs money to pay for hospital and medicine bills, insurance, living expenses and emergency funds: “Endless work. The thought that no one can save me from this exhausting work. Worry about what will happen when the time comes when I can no longer work. In other words, what worries me is not death, but life».

The mother has grown fond of Jen, in whom she sees her miserable future. When Jen was young, she was a successful diplomat overseeing issues affecting child welfare in developing countries. Now that she is old and sick, she has no family to care for her and is treated harshly by her facility. In one case, she is forced to reuse diapers, which worsens the wound on her back.

This situation frustrates the mother as she thinks Jen is spending her last days in confined solitude, deprived of the respect and quality care she deserves as someone who dedicated her youth to the betterment of society. The narrator raises questions about the value of aging, especially when you’re alone. It is for this reason that he wants Green to have a family and children who can take care of her: “The thought of my daughter meeting the same fate as Jen is enough to stop my heart.”

In one incident, Green is involved in a protest at her university following the unfair firing of gay fellow professors. You actively participate in the demonstration, asking that the authorities recognize everyone’s fundamental right to work and that professional and private life be separated. Her mother is taken aback by the event and is heartbroken at the discrimination faced by those in the same position as her daughter. Though she doesn’t say it out loud, she finds a similarity in the treatment Jen and Green received.

She begins to express a desire for change, something she has never cared about all her life. “I was born and raised in this culture where the polite thing to do is turn a blind eye and keep your mouth shut, and now I’ve grown old into it. So why am I suddenly seeing these things as if they were the first time at this point in my life when I’ve already spent a lifetime accepting them without saying a word? Why make such a big deal out of it?

The mother wants to get to know her daughter, who she feels has drifted away from her. She although she is afraid of answers: “Without expectations, plans or fears, I want to ask anything and wait for the answer. But how scary it is to become aware of things. -she doesn’t want to be the kind of parent who runs away.

A hardworking person struggling financially, the mother recognizes the hardships everyone faces to keep their heads above water. Someone’s sexuality shouldn’t be the reason they’re denied work or treated unfairly in the workplace, she says. “What if she gets fired from her job, becomes a slave to make ends meet, falls into poverty and has to continue to do grueling physical labor into old age like I do? I’m afraid it will happen to her. And that has nothing to do with my daughter liking women. I’m not begging you to understand these guys. Just let them do the job they’re good at and compensate them for it.

About my daughter it can be difficult to read due to the absence of quotation marks, but it is not difficult for readers to find their way as Kim gives the mother the most important voice in the whole story. Will she finally be able to come to terms with her daughter’s life choices? It’s an “endless, repetitive battle” that she’s not sure she can win.

Purchase a copy of “Concerning My Daughter” at RM95.90 from Kinokuniya here.

This article first appeared on 9 January 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.

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