American, French novels set in Korea

Two non-Korean novels have embraced the look, smell and emotions of Korea.

One is written by an author from the U.S. and the other by an author from France. Their novels have one aspect in common: the stories are set in Korea and the characters are Korean.

The story of "The Soju Club" (?? ??) by American Tim Fitts develops on Geojedo Island in Gyeongsangnam-do Province. French author Elisa Shua Dusapin's "Winter in Sokcho" (????? ??), or "Hiver a Sokcho" in French, weaves a story in Sokcho on the wintry coast of Gangwon-do Province.

"The Soju Club" revolves around a family living on Geojedo Island. The main character, Hong Won-ho, lives in Busan and writes novels in English. One day, he receives a call from his brother who says something has come up in their family. Won-ho decides to go down to Geojedo Island where his family lives. His father, a fisherman, is an alcoholic and a womanizer. His mother, who has put up with her husband all those years, loves her children so much as to feed them on a ceaseless number of delicious dishes. There's his younger sister who plans to do some business with Won-ho's English novels, and whose husband is from the U.S.

Won-ho discovers that his father cheated on his wife, again, and her mother has already run away from home. The protagonist wants them to get back together and goes out to sea to fish together with his father, all the way to Dokdo Island. On the journey from the fishing village in Geojedo to Dokdo, the father and son guzzle soju (??) and makgeolli rice beer (???), both common liquors in Korea. Talks over drinks on the voyage allow them to have a heart-to-heart. Such scenes are inspired by the writer's love for traditional makgeolli rice beer.

"Mother puts three steamed sweet potatoes in the makgeolli rice beer. It adds a nice finish to the grain-liquor's taste. As the makgeolli taste fades in the mouth, the taste of sweet potatoes floods in, as if saying, 'Ta-da! I'm here.' It's such magic. Makgeolli rice beer is also effective against stomach problems. Nothing is better than mother's sweet potato makgeolli to release your tension and to relieve your throat."

The writer's love for the traditional drink led to making some himself. Fitts, who now lives in Philadelphia, makes makgeolli himself using yeast, known as nuruk, which is really hard to get outside of Korea. Out of his love for the rice beer, Fitts even introduces how to make makgeolli in the book.

"If you want a rough, old-style taste you can drink it immediately. The makgeolli which has been kept in the fridge for more than two days, however, will give you the taste of heaven."

Elisa Shua Dusapin's "Winter in Sokcho" brings to light the look of Sokcho, Gangwon-do Province, that the author herself saw and felt. Dusapin, born to a French father and a Korean mother, enshrines the identity crisis through which she went as a child in a bicultural household; enshrined in the 23-year-old heroine of the novel. She talks about the beautiful city in the story, a city that she visited for the first time six years ago in the winter.

The female lead, born to a French father and a Korean mother, as the author was, works at a quiet lodging house in Sokcho. One day, in the freezing winter, a middle-aged French cartoon artist comes to stay there. Subtle emotions arise between the young lady and the middle-aged French visitor. However, the French cartoonist reminds her of her French father who seduced her mother and left her without any trace 23 years ago.

"'It looks like Sokcho,' said the cartoonist, referring to his homeland of Normandy.

He doesn't answer. He would never know Sokcho as I do. He would never say he knows this city, without being born here, without spending a winter here, and without having all the smells and tasting octopus. Never know without suffering from loneliness here."

Elisa Shua Dusapin, born to a French father and a Korean mother, publishes her first French short novel, 'Winter in Sokcho,' in August. The novel is set in Sokcho, Gangwon-do Province, and tells the story of a young French-Korean woman and a middle-age French man who feel subtle emotions for each other.

The French author grew up in both France and Switzerland. In 2010, at the age of 13, she came to Korea to see relatives on her mother's side. "When I arrived in Sokcho, it reminded me of Normandy, which is my father's homeland," Dusapin said. "Normandy was battlefields during World War ?, while Sokcho is located very close to the military demarcation line that divides the two Koreas. In that sense, I thought the two regions looked alike and that's how I chose Sokcho for my novel," she said.

She added that, "Korea is my mother's home country and I, too, feel like I am Korean. In my childhood, I didn't see myself as either 100 percent French nor 100 percent Korean. I suffered from identity confusion, and I finally decided to tell my story in a novel."


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