Cho Haejin’s poignant short novel follows North Korean refugee Loh Kiwan to a place where he doesn’t speak the language or understand the customs. His story of hardship and determination is gradually revealed in flashbacks by the narrator, Kim, a writer for a South Korean TV show, who learned about Loh from a news report. She traces his progress from North Korea to Brussels to London as he struggles to make his way and find a home in an unfamiliar world.
Readers come to see that Kim, too, has embarked on a journey, one driven by her need to understand what drives people to live, even thrive, despite tremendous loss and despair. Her own conflicted feelings of personal and professional guilt are mirrored in the novel’s other characters: Jae, Kim’s romantic interest and producer of the TV show she once wrote for; Yunju, a young cancer victim whose illness she now regrets exploiting; Pak, a doctor who helped Loh in Brussels, yet suffers deep remorse over the many life and death decisions he has made for his patients. Cho Haejin weaves these characters into a story of hope and trust, one that asks basic questions about what it means to be human and humane.
First published in 2011 in South Korea, this timely book won the 2013 Shin Dong-yup Prize for Literature.