Kim Ae-Ran

The Youngest Parents and the Oldest Child

Winner of French literary award “Prix de Linapercu, 2014 (previously won by Shin in 2009) ” Changi Publishing (355 pages), 2011, film being released February 2015. Sold in Rye Field/Taiwan, Philippe Picquier/France, Japan, China, Cass Verlag/Germany. Chi Young Kim, translator.

In a small, quiet city in the countryside, a couple has a child at the tender age of seventeen. Dae-su and Mi-ra set up house with equal parts nervousness and excitement. Their baby, A-reum, is at the center of the villagers’ interest and love. But A-reum has a fatal disease, progeria. He’s now a seventeen-year-old with a young man’s sensibility but his body is weak and diseased.   A-reum can’t go to school like the others, can’t play soccer or basketball, and he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but he is cheerful and well adjusted. A-reum, who is more mature in some ways than his parents who always worry about him, has a sole friend, a sixty-year-old man who lives next door. A-reum focuses on reading and writing, thankful that he’s still alive. His doctors have told him that it’s rare to live this long while suffering from progeria. While it is a miracle that he’s even alive, he is mired in hardship. His symptoms become worse and he needs to be hospitalized. But his parents can no longer pay the bills. So A-reum volunteers to appear on a TV reality program to collect donations. He raises enough to admit himself into the hospital. He begins a letter correspondence with a girl his age named Seo-ha, a bone cancer patient. A-reum opens up to her and wants to get closer. She is his first love. But then it is revealed that Seo-ha isn’t a girl suffering from bone cancer—he’s a grown man. A-reum is stunned. He realizes painfully that his first love is over but he doesn’t give up. Meanwhile, his disease grows worse. His tumultuous story is broadcast on television and he receives a lot of help but nothing can save him from death.  A-reum decides to write down the story of his parents’ love from first sight until his birth, and gives it to his parents on his eighteenth birthday. If only in writing, A-reum wants to return their beautiful youth to his parents, who weren’t able to enjoy it because of their sick son. He uses his imagination and humorous exaggerations to write Dae-su and Mi-ra’s love story. Would he be able to live to see his eighteenth birthday? Would he be able to say a calm goodbye to his parents? A-reum is nervous about everything but spends the rest of his time on earth well. His novel is dedicated to his parents and to his youth, which he never had a chance to experience. 

As A-reum completes his novel, he finds out that his mother is pregnant. A-reum hopes his new sibling will console their parents of their sorrow of losing him. After his death, his parents read his novel and vow to always love and remember their son who left before them. Dae-su and Mi-ra prepare for another future with their new baby. The baby has come to them at the right time, like he is the reincarnation of A-reum.  Author Kim Ae-ran beings her novel with this sentence: “This is the story of the youngest parents and the oldest child.” The parents are naïve adults while young A-reum has understood the world like an old man. The novel deals with the sorrow of parents who have to say goodbye to the person they love most, and a son’s despair at having to leave the people he loves most. Through their sad but beautiful story the reader is encouraged to reflect on the meaning of family, life, and what it means to age.