An award-winning debut from Choi Eunyoung, Shoko’s Smile is a collection of five short stories and two novellas that explore the joys and heartbreaks of human relationships as they blossom and wither. Largely following the nuanced relationships of women—between friends, lovers, and family—the book is a microscopic, almost obsessive, study of complex emotions underlying their personal interactions. The title story “Shoko’s Smile” is a novella about the fraught friendship between a Korean and Japanese girl unfolding over thirteen years as they struggle with their dreams and families. “Hanji and Youngju” is a novella about a Korean geology student and a young Kenyan man who bond at a French monastery but inexplicably grow apart one day. In “A Song from Afar,” a young woman suffering depression grapples with the premature death of the woman she loves and travels to Russia to find the latter’s old roommate. In “Xin Chào, Xin Chào,” a Korean and Vietnamese family meet as friendly neighbors in Germany but an unexpected argument about the Vietnam War ruins their relationship forever. In “Sister, My Little Soonae,” the sisterly love between two women collapses when one of their husbands is convicted of collaborating with North Korea in a notorious 1975 trial. In “Secret,” the parents of a part-time teacher killed in the Sewol ferry sinking hide her death from her ailing grandmother. “Michaela” is about the many daughters and mothers staging protests for a full investigation of the Sewol disaster.
Choi Eunyoung refrains from sensationalizing the horrors of these historical events, keeping the stories firmly grounded in the emotional realities of the characters through sparse and understated prose. Reminiscent of Alice Munroe and Elena Ferrante, it is the force of emotions bleeding through Choi’s language that disarms, breaks, and warms the reader’s heart. Ultimately, Shoko’s Smile gently arouses in us an empathy for the pain of others and ourselves.
About the Author
Choi Eunyoung (b. 1984) has earned popular and critical acclaim for her poignant insights on human relationships and her portrayal of women, queers, victims of state violence, and other underrepresented voices. She made her literary debut in 2013 when her novella Shoko’s Smile won the Writers’ World Award for New Writers and the Munhakdongne Young Writers Award the following year. She expanded the novella into a bestselling short story collection of the same name, which won the Heo Kyun Literary Award and Kim Jun-seong Literary Award and was chosen the best fiction title of 2016 by 50 Korean novelists. She also received the Munhakdongne Young Writers Award, Ku Sang Young Writers’ Award, and Lee Haejo Literary Award for her novella The Summer. Her latest work is a short story collection entitled Someone Harmless to Me (2018), which won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award and was selected the best fiction title of 2018 by 50 Korean novelists. She has stated that “just as some people are born with weaker eyes or stomachs, some people have especially fragile minds. I want to humbly open my ears to the unfathomable pain of others.”
“In this debut short story collection, you will find stories that study the full gamut of emotions you experience when you accept the fact [that you misunderstood the world], from shame and embarrassment to rage, hatred, and guilt. But a study is a study, and a story is a story. Choi Eunyoung’s biggest merit as a writer is that whatever she studies, she turns it into an extraordinary story.” –Kim Yeonsu, Author of Whoever You Are, No Matter How Lonely
“This collection signals the rise of a talented writer … We often grow close or distant to people without understanding why, but Choi Eunyoung captures what happens in our minds with her distinctly subtle style.” –Kim Young-ha, Author of Your Republic is Calling You
About the Translator
Sung Ryu earned her M.A. in translation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. She has received LTI Korea grants to translate Tower by Bae Myung-hoon, Shoko’s Smile by Choi Eunyoung, and Don’t You Use That Molten Steel by Geppetto. She also translates nonfiction, including Secrets Behind Things That Look Good (2017), Digital Playground: 10 Building Blocks of Digital Marketing (2015), and the Korean edition of Grandma Moses: My Life’s History (2017). She won the GKL First Prize for her translation of “Sister, My Little Soonae” by Choi Eunyoung.